Police Cleared By Police In Grime Death
Anatomy Of A Coroner's Inquest
By Jim Fox
The headline in the Friday, Oct. 17th Marin Independent Journal was "Police cleared in Grime's death." According to the family this is far from true. This was a coroner's inquest, whose outcome by a jury decides the cause of death on the official death certificate of Cary Grime. An investigator from the FBI was observing the coroner's proceedings. In the Rodney King case that caused the Los Angeles riots, the police were acquitted of excessive force charges, only to do prison time for federal civil rights violations.
Cary Grime on Aug. 17th called 9-11 because he was locked out of his car. One-half-hour later, a sheriff arrived. Cary tired to flag him down. And two hours later he was brain-dead, while in police custody. Cary was a musician, married for 22 years with three teenage children.
The jury at the coroner's inquest was charged with determining the cause of death on the death certificate, either natural, accidental, suicidal or by the hands of another. The only way the police were "cleared" is that the jury of 12 decided unanimously the cause of death was accidental and not by the hands of another. That was the only way they could vote due to the information presented to them. As quoted in the Marin IJ, their main reason for the decision was because of the concoction of drugs in Cary's blood-from morphine to cocaine.
An inquest is not a trial. They both have a jury, but at an inquest there is no prosecution or defense or judge. It is the coroner that decides on witnesses and evidence. He can exclude or include anyone or anything he chooses, whether an eyewitness or a smoking gun. There is no cross examination of witnesses. In most counties in California, the coroner is also the sheriff and they work very closely together, similar to the sheriff's relationship with the DA.
Eleven out of the 14 witnesses called were police. Two others who testified (a jail nurse and a forensic pathologist) worked or consulted for the county. The only civilian witness was citizen Taffy Lavie, a waitress who witnessed the initial confrontation with Cary and the sheriff deputies. The reason she was subpoenaed was her high profile in news stories. She could not be overlooked. She was the only non-involved witness.
The pathologist, Kelly Arthur, did the final autopsy, including microscopic examination of tissues and toxicology. The most obvious citizen that was not subpoenaed was the most important person that could determine the cause of death. This was the emergency room doctor who performed a medical exam on Cary at his time of admittance to the hospital. In a normal coroner's inquest, his testimony would be vital. He was not there to tell the story. The Marin IJ article noted that the EMT's who took Cary from the jail to the hospital were never questioned. Also the first firemen on the scene were never questioned.
The courtroom, one of the smaller ones at the Hall of Justice, was packed with police, press, witnesses and members of the Grime family. In the morning, thirty people stood outside the courtroom door which was open for ventilation.
There was an independent investigation reported on by a Detective Ralph Pata for the San Rafael Police Department. He appeared very meticulous and apparently thorough. He was the costar of the inquest, appearing four times during the hearing for about 10 minutes each time. He was trying to tie testimony, timeline and video together into a cohesive explanation of the events. The master of ceremonies, Coroner Kenneth Holmes, seemed rather jovial, relaxed and with his gray goatee reminded me of the wizard in the Wizard of Oz. He asked the questions from his notes, almost as if he was reading from a script. His questioning was very flowing and seemed sincere. To his right, was the head lawyer for the Grime family, Andrew Schwartz of Walnut Creek. Through out the inquest he had a smile on his face. Perhaps a smile of disbelief.
The witnesses were a parade of police, all telling the same story about how a disoriented guy came waving their patrol car down and how he was obviously intoxicated and they had to arrest him for his own good. They described the techniques used to subdue him, how he was very resistive and how this 5'6", 138 pound man had enormous power that they had never before witnessed. Yet the police overcame Cary's struggle by using very simple techniques (tripping the subject and wrist lock techniques) overpowering Cary and handcuffing him. They also noted they were sure to double lock the handcuffs so that the handcuffs would not tighten and cause serious injury. The two arresting officers were over six feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds each.
At this time in the event sequence there were many calls to Novato 9-11 by people reporting a fight. Also at this time civilian Taffy Lavie was coming home from work as a waitress and stopped to watch what was going on.
The police story continued with the report that after handcuffing Cary, and putting him in the back seat of the police car, more police arrived on the scene. The captain in charge said that Cary was very violent, thrashing around, hitting his head against the windows and biting down on the hard plastic seats.
The police were worried that Cary could break out a window and jump out of the police car while being transported to the jail. "Those windows break very easily," an officer was quoted as saying. After deliberation, the police decided to remove Cary from the car and with large plastic zip ties, tie his ankles together. Then, using a leather strap, they hog-tied the chain of his handcuffs to the zip ties on his ankles, with his hands behind his back. Testimony related police then were very careful to place Cary back in the patrol car on his side so he could not suffocate himself. While transporting Cary to jail, the police thought that Cary actually was able to sit up, which was a cause for concern that resulted a delay in transport so they could inspect him.
Cary was finally greeted at the jail by a bevy of open armed sheriff's, who put a towel over Cary's face, because he was so violent. They were afraid this hog-tied person would spit on them or bite them. This towel also concealed Cary's face from being shown in the police jailhouse videotape. By police testimony the only quotes from Cary were "Fuck you" and "I shoved something up my ass." They carried what was supposedly a thrashing Cary into the booking cell. On the police video you see for one second what the Marin IJ described as "Cary being dragged." His body appeared totally limp and lifeless. They then placed him in a padded cell and the videotaped camera was manually switched to the padded cells camera.
Since before admittance Cary was never searched for drugs or weapons, you see what appears to be five sheriffs hovering over Cary doing something, going through his pockets I guess. You hardly see a glimpse of Cary. All you see are sheriffs. When you do see Cary he is motionless. Keep in mind this is a jailhouse video. Marin County has a brand new state of the art $50 million jail. Their video tape was very jerky, time-lapsed, with about one frame a second. It was very hard to see what was going on. Even the San Rafael detective who was narrating the video admitted the audio was very hard to hear. It was impossible to hear. I could not understand one word.
This searching takes five cops over five minutes and they discover that Cary's feet are blue and his face red. At that time they finally summon the jail nurse who was busy attending the scraped knuckles of one of the arresting officers. She comes in and they decide to administer oxygen. This takes many minutes to set up because hose attachments were not proper. She puts an oxygen mask on Cary's face. An oxygen mask does not work if you are not breathing. She claims he was shallow breathing in these final minutes.
The nurse then decides that after observing his lifeless body that Cary must be overdosing on heroin, even though minutes before he was supposedly thrashing around in the police car, not symptoms of a heroin overdose. The nurse then decides to administer Narcan by injection. Narcan is a drug that counteracts heroin overdoses. She leaves the cell and four minutes later arrives back with an injection.
In the meantime all you see on the video are police hovering over Cary's body, towel still covering his face. Apparently they were having problems cutting the hog-tie. Cary was still hog-tied.
The nurse gives Cary the injection. She realizes he has no heartbeat and starts performing CPR chest compression's to keep Cary's blood flowing, but no one is performing mouth to mouth resuscitation to keep the oxygen flowing. In the original SF Chronicle article about Cary's death, Kaiser was quoted as saying Cary had no oxygen to he brain for 10 minutes before admittance to the ER.
When the firemen arrive, the San Rafael stopped the video. What they didn't show, as was described in testimony, was the EMTs administrating shocks to Cary twice. From testimony the police then stopped the EMT's taking Cary to the hospital so they could remove Cary's clothing and perform a body cavity search. This is in the middle of Cary's cardiac arrest. Nothing was ever found.
Again only police testified, not the EMT's or firemen. There was the testimony of civilian Taffy Lavie. Her father is a retired San Rafael police captain and she has known Coroner Kenneth Holmes since she was four years old, 30 years ago. That did not influence her in coming as a witness. Her testimony was not rehearsed. She was so frightened that she had a major asthma attack that morning and still arrived. She did testify, answering Coroner Kenneth Holmes' questions honestly. She admits she was very scared and forgot to tell the part she says was in her police report about a sheriff grinding Cary's head into the asphalt with the heal of his boot (as she was quoted in the SF Chronicle). She also forgot to mention that Cary sat very calmly in the back of their patrol car. Coroner Kenneth Holmes was very aware of her statements and he never asked her about these incidents.
The finale of the witnesses was the forensic pathologist, who spoke in a very radiant manner of the results of her independent, thorough microscopic autopsy. She claimed there were no broken bones, major bruises or lacerations, but only scrapes expected in such a confrontation. She said that Cary's genitalia were not bruised, the family claims they were.
The pathologist said that around Cary's wrist the skin was broken by the handcuffs, barely into the muscle. In the Novato Advance the family attorney claims the handcuffs cut through his skin, all the way through his muscles, through his tendons, down to the bone. The only thing that saved his arteries from being punctured were his wrist bones. The pathologist also said the Kaiser radiologist said X-rays revealed no broken bones, only a chipped elbow. The pathologist said she has photos and video of the autopsy. They were not shown during the inquest.
The pathologist said the toxicology report showed that the level of cocaine (0.02) was very low because a preservative was not included in the blood sample at the time of Carry's admission to the hospital. She said, that because of no preservative the cocaine metabolized in the blood sample and decomposed, and the levels did not reflect Cary's actual level at admission. If the cocaine actually metabolized, scientists know the rate and would be able to calculate and determine the actual cocaine levels at time of admission.
The other drugs that showed in Cary's toxicology reports were trace amounts morphine, codeine, Valium and Tylenol. Note Narcan that the nurse admitted was never mentioned or detected. This report convinced the jury that the potpourri of drugs is what killed Cary and not the police. Never was it mentioned that Cary had a prescription for the Valium, that the morphine and codeine were administered by the hospital staff, with barely trace amounts of cocaine.
After making his initial 9-11 calls, Cary waited for 30 minutes for police to arrive at the Famous Deli in Ignacio. During that time he was chatting with a witness who was the clerk at the deli. In her police statement she said that she had a lengthy conversation with Cary and that he was lucid and very coherent. Coroner Kenneth Holmes never called her to testify. Probably the FBI will.
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