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October, 2003

Two Month Wait For Facts In 911 Caller's Suspicious Death
By Jim Scanlon
   Cary Grime collapsed and died after a violent struggle with two Marin County Sheriff's Deputies in front of a fast food restaurant in Novato on August 17.
   Only one witness has come forth so far, a waitress on her way home from work. She was quoted in the SF Chronicle (San Rafael man beaten to death by cops, family says. August 22, 2003), stating, "One [Sheriff's Deputy] was grinding his head into the ground and the other was twisting his arm in a way that made me cringe".
   The witness was also quoted saying, "He was completely subdued and screaming 'Help, they're going to kill me,' and 'They're breaking my arm.' "She said she watched as the officers roughed him up, then pulled him into the patrol car by his cuffed wrists."
   "I don't care if he was drunk or what"  the Chronicle quotes her, "or what he was being arrested for, what they did wasn't right. I think it's disgusting"
   Grime (pronounced Grim-ay) made four 911 calls for assistance in locating his car and reportedly sounded disoriented, but before the Novato Police responded, a Sheriff's Deputy attempted to arrest him, apparently not checking in with Novato PD and mistaking his confusion for alcohol intoxication.
   The Marin County Coroner's Office recently announced that it will convene a Coroner's Inquest on October 16 at the Hall of Justice, Civic Center San Rafael. The hearing will be open to the public. Facts will be presented, testimony taken, and at the close or proceedings, a Coroner's Jury will reach some kind of verdict on the circumstances of Grime's death.
   This will mean that two months time will have elapsed before official reports, facts and testimony will be made public. The only medical information made public so far was leaked by someone with access to Grime's official medical records.
   It is difficult to understand why a highly unusual and unprecedented Coroner's Inquest is being held to determine why Grime died. This is why we have medical doctors and why we have a Coroner's Office.  Why do we have  a  lengthy delay and a wall of silence surrounding this case?
   The fact that the entire investigation has been conducted behind closed doors only breeds suspicion of attempts to delay and, in effect, conceal what happened. The public has a right to know if in fact there is evidence of police misconduct and if there is it must be stopped.
   Wives, children, family and friends of a deceased person, and even strangers, are quite naturally and understandably upset and may not be at all sympathetic to, or understanding of, the arresting officers. Quite naturally in such cases, the threat of official investigation, costly litigation and even, in rare cases, criminal prosecution looms. And if police officers are doing a good job they shouldn't have to live in uncertainty any more than absolutely necessary.
   This is why the leaking of apparently accurate information about Grime's blood alcohol level of .03 (low) is so inexcusable. (The legal level for DUI is 08). Although .03 might be seen as exculpating Grime, it prejudicially puts the focus on him. He made four 911 calls for help. Why did it take so long for help to arrive? What was a Marin County Deputy doing within the jurisdiction of the Novato Police? Usually police are sensitive to other police departments operating within their jurisdiction. Who were the officers? Are there any previous, similar incidents.
   The Novato Advance noted the logged times of certain events. At 2:31 AM,  "the" call (1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th?) came in to Novato Police and an officer was dispatched at 2:53 AM. When the officer got to the scene, Grime had been subdued and was under arrest.
   Harry Willis the attorney representing the family at the time, was quoted stating that sometime between 2:31 AM and 3:26 AM when EMTs from San Rafael were dispatched, Grime either suffered "cardiac  arrest of "had problems breathing."  Staff allegedly began administering CPR at 3:30 AM and the EMTs arrived at 3:34, administering aid at 3:35. At 4:04 he was transported unconscious to Kaiser Terra Linda where he was examined and placed on life support. He never regained consciousness. It was estimated, according to Willis, that his brain had been deprived of oxygen for approximately 10 minutes. Two days later he was taken off life support and died.
  An autopsy was performed on August 21st and the funeral service took place five days later. Cary Grime, a Marin County native, a musician. is survived by his wife and three children.
   Grime's widow referred all questions to David Anderson the attorney for the family. Anderson said that he was not aware of a Coroners Inquest ever having been held previously in Marin and so far he was not sure of the guidelines, how the jury will be chosen, how many persons etc. The Hearing Officer is an East Bay attorney Harry Willis (no relative of the previously mentioned family attorney).
   Anderson was not aware of how Willis was selected or what his experience is. Anderson said he was hopeful that there would be a full, fair hearing of all evidence in this very suspicious death.
   Coroner's Inquests are considered to be "inquisitorial" rather than "adversarial" as in regular court hearings, and are considered fact finding inquiries that do not attempt to fix blame. They date back into Medieval English Law. They are some similarities to Grand Juries which are often criticized as being easily manipulated by the judicial officer in charge of presenting evidence. Grand jury recommendations are frequently accepted and then ignored.
  It remains to be seen how this unprecedented Inquest will play out in modern Marin.

 

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