Harold Easter asked the cops, “Y’all gonna let me die in here?”
Harold’s question came about ten minutes into his detention in a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department holding room on January 23, 2020. Within an hour of entering the room, Harold, who was Black, collapsed. He died a couple days later.
The cops brought Harold to the station after arresting him for possession of marijuana and cocaine.
He entered the holding room shortly after noon. He wore jeans and a red pullover. His hands were cuffed behind him.
One officer accompanied Harold into the room, which measured about twelve-feet-by-eight-feet and was built of cinder blocks painted an institutional off-white. A small, round, wood-grain table was bolted to the floor in the middle of the room, which was lit by fluorescent bulbs.
The officer sat Harold at the table in a black, plastic chair facing a camera mounted in an upper corner of the opposite side of the room. He shackled Harold’s ankles to the floor. The only other item in the room was another black, plastic chair.
“I gotta pee,” Harold told the officer.
“In about five minutes, I’m gonna come back and get you,” the officer explained to Harold while taking off the cuffs.
Once he was shackled to the floor, Harold stood. About a minute after entering the room, he took off his pullover. He wore a red t-shirt.
The officer asked Harold for his earrings, which Harold surrendered. The two started talking about Harold’s strip search, which officers had just conducted.
“I ain’t got no dope in my ass,” he told the officer. “All I asked you is respect me like a man and let me open my own ass cheeks.”
“I let you hold your own dick, though,” the officer replied.
Harold took off his t-shirt. “It’s hot in here,” he said.
Though officers would instinctively lie about it when Harold would collapse about an hour after being led into the holding room, they knew he had swallowed a considerable amount of cocaine when they arrested him.
“You have crack all over your tongue,” one officer said to Harold before they brought him to the station. Another remarked, “Lips going numb, ain’t they, brother?”
That’s why Harold was hot.
CMPD policy required that the officers seek immediate medical attention for Harold.
Instead, they placed him in their station’s holding room and shackled him to the floor.
After taking Harold’s earrings, the officer took his belt.
“Man, I ain’t killing myself,” Harold said as he handed it over.
The officer left about three minutes after leading Harold into the room.
Almost immediately, Harold began to yell, admitting to his drug use: “We smoke rocks. That’s what we do.”
He also started talking about death.
“You can shoot me in my head a million trillion times, but I’m gonna still live,” he yelled to no one in particular.
Three minutes after taking off his shirt, Harold put it back on.
“I believe in God and angels,” he said.
A minute later, “I need some water.”
Another minute later, “So if I die in here, everybody knows where I went.”
Harold knew that when cops take Black men into custody, they often die. As he would.
His thirst, no doubt a consequence of his drug consumption, continued. “I ain’t disrespecting nobody. I ain’t calling nobody names,” he said. “So can I please get some water, sarge?”
About a minute later, a little under ten minutes after being led into the holding room, Harold asked, “Y’all gonna let me die in here?”
He swayed back and forth as he continued calling out to officers.
“I ain’t gonna hurt y’all. I ain’t trying to kill nobody.” He added, “There’s some motherfuckers trying to kill me.”
Harold was right. Those motherfuckers stood on the other side of the holding room door.
He was still thirsty. “Can I please get some water?” He again took off his shirt. “It is hot in here,” Harold said.
His jeans began to slip down his legs as he continued to stand, revealing his gray boxer briefs.
“Sarge!” Harold yelled.
Almost thirteen minutes after cops placed Harold in the holding room, another officer opened the door.
Harold asked for some water.
“Why do you not have any clothes on?” the officer asked.
“Because I’m hot,” Harold explained. He pulled up his sagging jeans. He put his shirt back on.
He once more talked of death: “I ain’t trying to die.”
Harold asked to go to the bathroom and again started talking about the cops grabbing his ass during the strip search. That was a problem, Harold said, “because I’m a man, man. Like y’all.”
After confirming Harold wanted water, the officer left the room.
Fifteen minutes had passed since the cops placed Harold in the holding room.
Harold yelled that he’d like something non-caffeinated to drink. He mentioned orange juice. “I don’t drink coffee,” he said. “I drink hot chocolate.”
Then, in a sign of his increasing physical distress, Harold suddenly leaned forward on the table. “Oh, boy,” he said.
While waiting for his water, Harold started to rhythmically knock on the table, occasionally stopping to rub his hands together.
He spoke about God and whether he believed in him.
Harold sat down, and the officer returned with a cup of water.
“Why are you yelling?” the officer asked. Harold stood to take the water, which he started sipping. The officer left.
Harold returned to his talk of death. “I ain’t scared to die, but I ain’t ready to go,” he said. He mentioned his brother was already “on the other side,” and he began snapping his fingers while singing about heaven.
A few minutes later, Harold spoke about work.
“I wash cars, cut grass, whatever to get some money,” he said.
Around this time, nearly twenty-five minutes into his stay inside the holding room, Harold became visibly and audibly more agitated.
After talking again about God and angels, he turned to talk of his family.
“I need some rest. I gotta be up to take my son and daughter to school,” he said. “I don’t give a fuck what time I go to sleep. I get up and take my kids to school.”
He continued, “I tell them, ‘Go to school. Learn how to read and write and count.’”
He talked about supporting his children: “I give them all dollars everyday.”
Things were different with his father, Harold said. “My dad didn’t buy me shit. He taught me how to be a man, though.” He added, “I teach my son the same shit.”
About thirty minutes after being shackled to the floor, Harold got increasingly loud and incoherent. He talked about God, racism, death, guns, dinosaurs, and trucks.
“I ain’t trying to hurt nobody, but I ain’t gonna let no motherfucker hurt me,” he said.
We live in a “crooked-ass world,” Harold said, but God tries to make it better. “When you do the right thing, you get a blessing.”
More incoherence: Africa, diamonds, gold, silver, platinum, vegetables.
Harold sat down, still sipping his water.
Thirty-three minutes after the cops placed Harold in the holding room, an officer briefly opened the door, said nothing, stepped out of the room, and closed the door behind him.
It was around this time Harold started talking to someone who wasn’t there.
The conversation is hard to make out because of the quality of the audio. At one point, Harold said, “If I die … .”
At the thirty-five-minute mark, Harold again stood up. He picked up the water cup and immediately put it down. He tugged at his pants. Fidgeting.
About ninety seconds later, Harold leaned forward and placed his left palm and right elbow on the table.
He continued to be incoherent. “I used to like Pizza Hut, but they changed their sauce,” he said.
In his final minutes of consciousness, Harold was difficult to understand, alternating between shouts at nothing and conversations with no one.
His thirst returned. “Can I get some more water please?” He picked up the empty cup. “Can I get some more water please, sarge?”
A few seconds later: “Y’all trying to let me die.”
Forty minutes into his ordeal, Harold suddenly leaned on the table with both palms.
“Sarge!” he yelled.
His breathing got heavier as he stood up.
“If you’re trying to let me die, which I’m not gonna die…” he started saying, the remainder of his words indecipherable.
“I ain’t gonna die,” he said, trying to convince himself.
Harold briefly lifted his shirt before leaning on the table again.
Harold sat down for about twenty seconds, pounding on the table and singing. He stood back up, unsteady on his feet.
“Can I get some water?” he pleaded about forty-two minutes after being brought into the holding room.
Harold began to deteriorate.
He shook, appearing suddenly weak and again leaning on the table.
“You think I’m … going … to … die,” he slowly said.
Then, “I ain’t gonna die.”
And finally, “I’m gonna die.”
Harold began moaning and yelling. He grabbed the table firmly with both hands, his arms outstretched in front of him.
Forty-five minutes after being shackled to the floor, Harold wildly clawed at the table before falling forward, his upper body bent at the waist while he remained standing.
He shook. He moaned. He whimpered. He quivered. Until he fell mostly silent and mostly still.
Around this time, as Harold laid quiet, voices from the hallway outside the holding room can be heard on the video.
We can hear the cops talking.
They could hear Harold.
About forty-seven minutes after being placed in the holding room, Harold’s upper body suddenly jerked upright before he violently collapsed to his right and came to rest on the floor.
Over the next seven minutes, with only the lower half of his body visible in the camera footage, Harold appeared to suffer about fifteen seizures that shook his body, rattled his ankle shackles, and caused him to wretch.
This was interrupted by moments of relative stillness and labored breathing that made it sound as though Harold was snoring.
Toward the end, just before the cops found him, he seemed to cry like a child.