The terminations are among the most prompt disciplinary actions taken in recent months after a summer filled with protests against police brutality, racism and injustice where cries for correctional measures for police took longer to lead to action.
Harvey family attorney Francys Johnson said in an interview with The Washington Post that the speed with which the officers were fired and denied their appeals for their terminations is notable but the family still deserves more justice.
“Our next step is to hold the officers responsible for their criminal negligence and to hold the city responsible,” he said. “It’s not just the matter of [Harvey] committed suicide, it’s about if the city was deliberately indifferent to his condition in custody.”
Mayor Van R. Johnson II said in a statement that he is “devastated” that Harvey died while under the control of the Savannah Police Department and stated that he believes the officers’ terminations were appropriate given the fatal outcome of their actions.
“While we cannot provide justice for the Harvey family, we can ensure accountability for the policies we did not follow and the actions we did not take,” he said. “I do not believe that there was malicious intent on the part of the officers involved, but the result was deadly.”
“I hope and pray that [the Harvey family] find some type of comfort knowing that the Savannah Police Department did what we had to do to hold members of our organization accountable,” he said, stressing that he also didn’t believe the officers had malicious intent. Harvey was in custody in connection to an aggravated assault investigation, according to police.
Johnson said that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations has recorded statements for an officer through her body camera that show Harvey was in an unstable condition the night of his death.
“Instead of taking him to a hospital, they chained him to a wall with two police officers standing outside,” Johnson said. “We think that’s a deliberate indifference to his condition and rises to the level of negligence.”
It is believed that Harvey loosened one of his shoestrings or another object in his possession with a free arm and hanged himself, Johnson said.
Officers tried to save Harvey’s life once he was found but he ultimately died of his injuries, according to police.
Police noted that it was standard procedure for the GBI to conduct an investigation for an in-custody death, but Johnson says the case has had a rocky start.
Harvey’s body was given back to his family in pieces following an autopsy with little explanation about how he went into custody alive and came out dead. Being notified about his death also took longer than expected, eroding their confidence in authorities.
“As far as I’m concerned, I will never have justice until I see my son again,” she said through tears.
Cpl. Silver Leuschner and Sgt. Michael Kerr were fired shortly after Harvey’s death for violations concerning video and audio equipment and oath of office ethics.
The family has requested surveillance video of the interrogation room but Johnson said the officers never turned on the video.
The meme making light of Harvey’s death in a group chat was another blow for the family, according to Johnson.
“There’s nothing humorous about hanging, death by hanging especially for Black people in the South and in Savannah, especially a hanging in our own department,” he said.
Sgt. Christopher Hewett, Cpl. Erica Tremblay and Officer David Curtis were all terminated following the department’s investigation into the meme.
It’s unclear if all fired officers have retained legal representation.
Johnson said Harvey’s family is attending grief counseling and is trying to cope with Harvey’s death each passing day. He said he remains cautious about how to pursue justice in the months ahead.
“While firing the officers is a positive step, it is often paradoxically used as a way to minimize the municipality’s exposure under these cases,” Johnson said. “It is our hope our city will not hide behind qualified immunity and fail to dignify actions of these officers.”