Evidence in jail death given to county prosecutor

Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Any action on formal inquest waiting for return of autopsy report.

CAIRO, Ill. -- The review of the strangulation death of Demetrius Flowers while in Cairo, Ill., police custody reached a new stage Monday when Illinois State Police investigators turned their files over to the Alexander County prosecutor.

A written report and physical evidence -- including a videotape that shows part of the holding cell where Flowers died -- were among the items given to State's Attorney Jeff Farris. The collection of evidence isn't complete, Farris said, because he and Coroner David Barkett are still waiting for a formal autopsy report and the results of any investigation by other agencies.

"Thereafter, and as soon as possible, while making the best effort to insure a complete investigation, the coroner will proceed with a formal inquest and the state's attorney will make a determination of whether criminal charges are called for," Farris said in a news release.

Flowers, 38, died in a holding cell Dec. 14 about five hours after being arrested. He died of strangulation, Barkett said at the time in a preliminary ruling.

Cairo Mayor Paul Farris -- the state's attorney's cousin -- said last week that he believes Flowers killed himself by accident while attempting to inflict an injury serious enough to be hospitalized. Mayor Farris did not elaborate on what evidence he has seen that led him to that conclusion and has not returned calls seeking comment.

Flowers was found with shoelaces around his neck. The shoelaces were tied above him in the cell and he was slumped forward, Mayor Farris has said.

Officer punished

Within days of the death, Farris suspended without pay three police officers and two dispatchers who were on duty while Flowers was in the jail. Two of the officers -- both lieutenants -- and one dispatcher were fired last week. The others, an officer and a dispatcher, were returned to duty after admitting they didn't follow city policies for handling and watching prisoners. The two who were reinstated also agreed to drop any grievance against the city over their suspensions. State police investigators won't comment on their conclusions about the death, said Master Sgt. David Baker, head of the state police investigative unit at District 22 headquarters in Ullin, Ill.

Along with a videotape of the cell, which Baker said only shows a portion of the room where Flowers was held, investigators turned over photos of the scene as well as audio recordings of witness statements and police telephone communications.

When the death was first reported, Barkett announced that he was also asking the FBI and the Illinois attorney general's office to investigate. Scott Mulford, a spokesman for the attorney general, said any state investigation has been handled by the state police.

No one from Flowers' family could be reached for comment Monday. They have been critical of Barkett for not holding an inquest and have questioned the account given by Mayor Farris.

In an interview Saturday, Flowers' father, Arby Davis, said his son would not deliberately hurt himself. Flowers had been arrested before and wasn't afraid of being in a cell, Davis said.

When an inquest is held, Davis said, it should include a re-enactment of how his son allegedly tied off the shoelaces so everyone can understand how it was done.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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