Cairo, Ill., family says prisoner wouldn't hurt self

Sunday, February 5, 2006

The mayor said Demetrius Flowers wanted to be sent to a hospital.

CAIRO, Ill. -- The family of Demetrius Flowers questioned Saturday whether he would deliberately hurt himself, even to get out of a jail cell.

Arby Davis, Flowers' father, and Cassandra Jones, his stepmother, said they don't believe Mayor Paul Farris' description of how Flowers died Dec. 14 in a Cairo Police Department holding cell.

Farris told the Associated Press that he thinks Flowers, 38, was seeking to hurt himself enough to warrant a trip to the hospital. Flowers died of strangulation with shoelaces tied around his throat.

The shoelaces had been tied above Flowers' head, and his body was found slumped forward, Farris said.

Those actions don't sound like Flowers, Jones said. He had been arrested previously and wasn't the type of person who would hurt himself, she said. "He wouldn't play games to go to the hospital," she said.

Davis, the father, agreed. "Demetrius didn't have that kind of character to harm himself," he said.

Farris could not be reached for comment Saturday.

Davis and Jones were at Holy City Church of God in Christ in Cairo on Saturday. They had planned a meeting to show community support for finding answers to explain the death, but only a couple of residents and two city council members appeared. Davis said fliers for the meeting weren't distributed until Wednesday.

Previous meetings have drawn dozens of people to the church.

Flowers was a father of seven children, Davis said. The youngest, twin boys, are only 4 months old.

"He loved his kids," Jones said. "When the two little ones were born, he walked around, carrying them in his arms."

Flowers was arrested about 4 a.m. Dec. 14 on suspicion of domestic assault and resisting arrest. He was found dead in his holding cell about five hours later.

Illinois State Police conducted an investigation into the death that concluded last week. The state police have not released the results of the investigation and spokesman Dale Poole said Tuesday that a report would be sent to Alexander County State's Attorney Jeff Farris.

Family members are waiting for Alexander County Coroner David Barkett to announce the date for an inquest. Davis said one of Barkett's deputies told him Friday that additional tests must be conducted on samples taken during the autopsy.

Three police employees -- two lieutenants and a dispatcher -- were fired for failing to follow procedures requiring that they take all of a prisoners personal belongings and make periodic checks on detainees.

Five employees were suspended without pay as a result of the death. Two employees, an officer and a dispatcher, have been put back on the job after admitting making mistakes and dropping grievances over their suspensions.

City officials haven't turned over any of Flowers's personal belongings, Davis said. "They said we will get it when the investigation is over."

Davis said he contacted FBI agents in Springfield and Carbondale last week to discuss the case. The investigation seems to be a one-sided look at Flowers and his family, not an inquiry into the actions of police, he said.

"Everybody who was down there in the police department when Demetrius' death occurred should be investigated," he said.

Mayor Farris needs to state the source of his information about how Flowers' injuries occurred and Flowers' intentions by attempting to hurt himself, council member Bobby Whitaker said.

"It's like he is dreaming stuff up," Whitaker said.

335-6611, extension 126

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