A Black woman died in police custody one day after she was arrested, and now her family is demanding answers.
Priscilla Slater was found unresponsive in her holding cell at the Harper Woods Police Department in Michigan on June 10, the day after she was arrested in connection to a shooting incident in a motel parking lot, reports Local 4 Defenders.
Slater was arrested on Tuesday along with Lewis Nichols after the latter allegedly fired 19 shots at the Parkcrest Inn, some of which went into a room where a mother and her child were staying, according to police.
When Slater was found in her cell, medics attempted to revive her. The 38-year-old was taken to St. John Hospital and pronounced dead Wednesday afternoon, reports WXYZ.
Six employees have been put on administrative leave since the incident and are now being investigated by the Michigan State Police.
“It’s procedural right now,” Vincent Smith, Harper Woods director of public safety, told Local 4 Defenders of the suspensions. “The investigation is going on with state police. These six were on duty when Ms.Slater was found unresponsive. It is procedural to cooperate with the MSP investigation.”
The employees, two of whom are supervisors, were in charge of checking on Slater every 30 minutes.
A witness to the shooting incident said he observed Slater being treated roughly by Nichols earlier, saying she was pushed to the ground.
“She couldn’t even stand up by herself before the police even came,” the witness told Local 4 Defenders. “He knocked her to the ground and she was there, barely could get up. He was trying to drag her, saying, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go.’”
Her autopsy and toxicology reports have not yet been completed. Slater’s family said they have not been given answers regarding the circumstances of her death.
“I’m mad about it and I want justice for Priscilla, yes I do,” said Jennifer Rand, Slater’s aunt, according to WXYZ.
Rand believes something else happened inside the police department that they aren’t being told.
“It sounds like it’s a coverup like they’re covering something up,” she said.
The family said they are still unsure why Slater was taken to jail.
“She died unnecessarily,” they say. “This does not feel good. When you care about a person, you raise them and out of nowhere they’re gone.”
Geoffrey Fieger, the family’s attorney, is launching an investigation into the incident.
"There is no way the police wouldn't see that somebody was in a serious medical need," Fieger said.
The police chief told Fox 2 Detroit that they are not hiding anything.
Michigan Sen. Adam Hollier said that while he understands the frustration, they all need to await the findings of the investigation.
"I think when we talk about what is going on right now, everyone is heated, everyone is frustrated. Right now everyone wants answers and the problem is, to get good answers you need to run a good investigation and that takes time,” Hollier said. "The problem is, people don't trust the police."
The death has sparked a number of protests, including one in front of Harper Woods Mayor Kenneth Poynter’s house on Sunday, reports Local 4 Defenders.
“We had to make a courtesy call to his front porch so he’ll understand that we will not accept you devaluing and dismissing, denigrating and degrading this sister and her family,” protester Teferi Brent said.
According to protesters, the mayor’s wife ripped up a "Black lives matter" sign over the weekend while Slater’s family was present.
“To take a sign during a time like this for a family that’s mourning and there’s no explanation of why she’s dead on their cement floor? That's totally unacceptable,” said Tamara Liberty-Smith.
Poynter said his wife ripped up the poster because the man carrying it was rude. He added that he is not racist because most of his neighbors are Black.