By Naeisha Rose
Church services are often a solemn affair, but congregants who flocked to Maranatha Baptist Church last week in Queens Village were up in arms and rallying for justice after the loss of a native son who died under mysterious circumstances while in police custody in York County, Penn.
On Sept. 30, churchgoers demanded justice for U.S. Army veteran Everett Palmer Jr., 41, and his family at the church, located at 112-42 Springfield Blvd.
In the church pews, family members and friends wore #Justice4Everett T-shirts, and held up signs with the names of others who were the victims of racism, police violence or both, like Emmett Till, Kimani Gray, Walter Scott, and many others.
There were also signs that said “I can’t breathe,” referring to the July 17, 2014 choke hold death of Eric Garner by police in Staten Island, as well as “Hands Up” and “Don’t Shoot” signs, in reference to the many black unarmed individuals who have been killed by law enforcement.
During the service, which was attended by his Palmer’s mother, Rose, and three of his six siblings, a video montage depicted Palmer’s life and highlighted his time with the military, working as a youth counselor for troubled kids, his work as a physical trainer, and spending time with his two sons, Michael and Matthew.
“He would call me up and tell me how he was helping people if they needed help paying their rent, or with moving their groceries,” his mother said. “He always helped [people], his heart was so big and he was a quiet guy who loved his family and his friends.”
The family wants justice for Palmer’s death and to learn the truth about what happened to him. Palmer’s body was returned to New York without his brain, heart and throat. They also want his organs to buried with him or cremated.
“It is appropriate that we as a community demand justice,” City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) said. “There is so much about this case that doesn’t sit well, but we are going to figure it out.”
Six months ago, after learning his mother was undergoing a heart procedure, Palmer, wanting to be with her in New York as she recovered, went to Lancaster, Penn., to turn himself into the police April 7 after a 2016 DUI charge he wanted to settle, but wasn’t on top of because of a move to Seaford, Del., according to his older brother, Dwayne Palmer, 49.
“He did have a DUI in 2016, where he flipped a car and injured himself and almost died as a result of that accident,” Dwayne said. “So that is why he went to Lancaster to resolve the incident two years later in 2018… but he probably thought he could walk in and just resolve it… he had a warrant out for his arrest so he was locked up. He wasn’t convicted of any crime, he was just going through a process and in that process he received a $5,000 bail.”
Palmer was transferred to York County, Penn., where the car accident occurred, but for two days, his family did not hear from him and on April 9, they were informed he was dead.
News outlets from Pennsylvania reported that a York County coroner representative cited his death was caused from hitting his head on a cell door April 9, which resulted in a heart attack, implying a suicide.
On April 10, York County coroner Pamela Gay told the family his death was neither from a heart attack nor from hitting his head on a cell door, but unknown causes, according to the family’s attorney Marlon Kirtin.
Church friend Ephraim George picked up Palmer’s body April 13, and notified the family there was bruising on the body and physical damage to his head, prompting them to hire Kirtin and their own forensic expert, Dr. Zhoungxue Hua.
It was on April 16 that Hua discovered, during an independent autopsy, that Palmer had no brain or heart and that his entire throat was removed, according to family members. He was buried April 20 in Pinelawn Memorial Park, a national cemetery for veterans in Long Island.
On May 2, the family said that the York County coroner’s office denied removing the organs and held that position for an entire week. Weeks later, on July 28, Gay offered a partial determination of his death, theorizing it was caused by methamphetamine toxicity, physical restraint, and a sickling blood disorder.
According to Palmer’s older brother, the men in his family carry only sickle cell trait, not the more severe disease, and when the paratrooper was at Lancaster, he was reported to be in good spirits and had no drugs on him.
When the family reached out to authorities in Pennsylvania about how Palmer could have had methamphetamine toxicity when he was in police custody, they received no response in July.
“Dr. Hua, our pathologist, went up to Pennsylvania himself on [Sept. 28] and he examined slides of [Palmer’s] heart, his brain and his throat bone,” said Kirton. “[Hua’s] cause of death [determination] was homicide.”
According to Kirton, the family also received a tip from a cell mate on a Facebook post memorializing the paratrooper that claimed Palmer was tased and beaten. The attorney also told the family that some of the autopsy slides were missing.
“The mortician could not cover up the bruising on his head,” said Rose. “We had to put a hat on him before we buried him. I believe that happened because they beat him on his head, and I believe that is why they took the brain.”
The Palmer family wants the public to call for a grand jury appointment for the homicide death of the paratrooper by calling the York County District Attorney’s office at (717) 771-9600.
Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose