Friday, March 21, 2008

Stupefying

I'm copying the following article in today's edition of Key West the Newspaper in its entirety, at Janet's insistence. She (and I) are infuriated about what is reported here and are trying to figure out what we can do, what we should do, about it. Janet has a call in to Tom, and she's talking demonstration, picketing.

Tom Luna is part-owner of Peppers Key West on Greene Street. However he is more widely known as an actor and as master of ceremonies for a wide variety of charitable events. We came to know him first in that role and only found out later of his connection with Peppers. We both like and respect him, but Janet is a great and vocal fan of his.

We are outraged at the treatment described here, more than anything else that we've heard about this police department, and we've heard plenty.

Tom is taking the right course in making a complaint to the Citizen Review Board, an independent board created by citizen referendum in 2002. It has the power to investigate, to subpoena evidence, and to report improper conduct to a variety of agencies, local, state and federal, and to a grand jury.

The Key West Citizen Review Board meets twice monthly at Old City Hall at 6:00 P.M. Its next meeting is on Monday, March 24. Meetings are open to the public. Board procedure requires them to refer a complaint to the Police Department, which they have done; it also requires that the Chief of Police respond to the CRB within 30 days.

Read the article. I'll get back to you later. Right now I have to console Janet who was in tears after reading the following.

Stupefying KWPD Behavior Turns Grief into Trauma

WHEN A LOCAL ICON’S LONGTIME PARTNER SUDDENLY HAD A FATAL HEART ATTACK, POLICE PREVENTED HIM FROM GRIEVING WITH THE BODY

COPS REPORTEDLY LAUGHED AND JOKED AS THEY TOOK PHOTOS OF THE DECEASED



by Rhonda Linseman-Saunders

Imagine finding the love of your life and creating 25 years of history and memories with that person—the one person who knows everything about you, and loves and accepts you unconditionally and selflessly. You’d feel lucky and blessed because you know how rare such a relationship is in today’s world of shallow, fleeting commitments.

Now imagine losing that partner very suddenly and having to witness his untimely death as you struggle to save him, alone and confused. From a chair at the table where just seconds before he had been playing a game of solitaire, he falls over, hits his head, and collapses lifelessly to the ground.

Horrified, you call for help and watch helplessly as the ambulance takes him away. Imagine that when you arrive at the hospital, the police meet you there, callously treat you like a murder suspect, then lock you in a poorly lit room while you wait for some indication of what is going on with your partner, fearing the worst, and wanting only to be by his side.

Finally, the police allow you to be near his expired body for a few moments, but you soon realize they’d only done so to come into the room and interrogate you about the death.

You’re then locked again into the room until a sympathetic onlooker lets you out to get some fresh air. Naturally, you try to get yourself together and attempt to make some sense of the situation. You retrace your steps to find your way back to your partner, confused about why you can’t simply be near him as is normal with the death of a loved one. You find the room in which his body is being kept, only to discover the police joking and laughing as they take pictures of his barelyclothed body. Even in death, you want to protect him and end the humiliation, but the police shout “Get out of here!”

Perhaps they’re embarrassed of their behavior and that has clearly taken precedence over any compassion they may have otherwise been compelled to show you on the most traumatic day of your life.

This scenario wasn’t ripped from a bad weekly crime show episode; this was the actual experience of Tom Luna upon the death of his longtime partner, Gary Adkins, who died suddenly at home of heart failure last June 17. Tom Luna is a local business owner who is well-known in the theatre community and for his involvement in a wide variety of charitable events and activities.

In a complaint to the Citizen Review Board (CRB), he alleges shockingly insensitive treatment at the hands of the Key West police on the day he lost Gary.

Dr. Steven Eccher, the emergency room physician on duty at Lower Keys Medical Center (LKMC), said he assured police from the very beginning that he found absolutely no evidence that the death occurred under suspicious circumstances, and that cardiac arrest was the likely culprit.

Eccher has been at LKMC the same position since 1992 and said in a phone interview with Amanda Willett, Executive Director of the CRB, that he has never experienced such behavior by the police.

“For whatever reason, the police were very reluctant to let Mr. Luna into the room and I’m not sure why they wanted to pursue it as death under suspicious circumstances,“ Eccher said. “I even offered to stand with Mr. Luna in the room with Gary, as I allow all people in the same circumstance the important opportunity to come into the room after the patient expires, and let them grieve. I’ve never had this problem in all the time I’ve worked here. I asked the officers about it and then asked to speak with their supervisors, to no avail.”

No evidence of suspicious circumstances was reportedly noted by either the lead detective or the KWPD crime scene investigator. Nobody involved apparently indicated anything but natural death, consistent with the account Luna had given.

Nonetheless, the ugly, insensitive treatment didn’t end at the hospital.

Sometime during the 10-hour ordeal, Luna was told by police that he could finally return home. But upon arrival at the home he and Gary had made together, Luna was horrified to see police cruisers and yellow crime scene tape all over the perimeter of his home.

Exhausted and griefstricken by the events of the day, he waited in the rain outside, and was reportedly told he couldn’t enter because it was a “crime scene.”

After he signed a consent form, the police searched and photographed everything in the home—including every bedroom dresser drawer. The seemingly relentless interrogation continued, and Tom was asked again and again to recall and relive the event. He was even instructed to recreate the scene.

But it still wasn’t over.

The barrage of questions continued, and the KWPD had yet to show any sensitivity to the fact that they were dealing with a person who had suffered the greatest imaginable loss. They even demanded answers about teeth whitening gel syringes and about “blood on the lamp” which turned out to be nothing more than wood stain that had gotten on the shade during their ongoing repairs after Hurricane Wilma.

After still more interrogation, Tom was asked to go outside again. Finally around 8pm, an officer came out to offer Tom a bottle of water. Eventually, he was even permitted to use the bathroom.

At the conclusion of the evening, officers reportedly handed Tom their cards and told him that the investigation wouldn’t be over until the autopsy results were finished. Tom was left mortified and numb, barely able to comprehend the events of the day, and allegedly received no offer of support from the KWPD— other than a last minute afterthought, when an investigator apparently had a brief pang of guilt and returned to say, “Hey, sorry about your friend.”

Tom said he was incensed and replied, “Friend? Friend? After 25 years together? Friend?”

The autopsy later confirmed the cause of death as heart failure and the manner of death as natural.

Many know Tom Luna as one of the most active, visible, and charitable members of our community. But he became reclusive for many months after the experience, and eventually sought treatment for physical and emotional effects related to Post Traumatic Stress.

“It’s been so hard on many of our friends, also. Not all of them know the details of what actually happened to Gary and me. I didn’t tell everyone because they’re also suffering the loss of a great friend,” Luna said. “Consequently, I’ve not been able to be around my friends, but I hope they will understand and forgive me for not being in contact with them.

“I hope to be able to emcee events again, to work in the theatre, to be with groups of friends again. Maybe after this comes to light, everyone will have a better understanding of why I’m not the person I used to be and I’ll be able to get back some of the joy of living here that I once had,” he said.

“I just can’t grasp why I was treated like this by the police. How can anyone show such inhumanity to another? It’s hard to let go of the outrage, disgust, indignity, humiliation, and disrespect I feel regarding my treatment by the police.” He asked Key West the Newspaper to report his story because, he said, he does not want the same thing to happen to others.

The situation begs the question, “Would a heterosexual husband or wife who had just lost their partner of 25 years be treated in the same manner?” Luna said that, during his interview with Internal Affairs Inspector Janneth Del- Cid, she couldn’t answer that question for him.

And in response to a request about sensitivity training within the KWPD, City Communications Manager Christie Phillips directed us to departmental policy 02-21, under which Key West police officers are reminded that citizens of Key West are their customers and as such are “deserving of respect and courteous assistance.”

Phillips could not comment on the specifics of the incident because Luna’s CRB complaint is under investigation by the KWPD.

4 comments:

Mark P. said...

First, my thoughts are with Tom and the many others who are affected by this tragedy. I am outraged by Tom's treatment at the hands of the KWPD. And, if I may answer the question posed in the article, no, I don't believe that Tom would have been subjected to this horrific, inexcusable treatment had he been in a heterosexual relationship. I have always thought of Key West as an open, accepting place. The officers guilty of this crime apparently feel otherwise. I feel that with the support of friends such as you and Janet, Tom will be able to once again have joy in his life.

Bill said...

Hello Bob,

My partner and I and a friend went to the CRB last night, 3/24, to hear about Tom Luna's complaint but it was not on the agenda. Do you know when it will be heard?

Bill

Bob Kelly said...

Bill, Janet and I were there also. We stayed until Public Comments and made a statement to the CRB expressing our concern that the case be handled expeditiously. The complaint was filed about a month ago and it was referred to the Police Departments Internal Affairs Bureau shortly thereafter. IAB then has 45 days in which to respond, although they can extend the time if their investigation isn't complete.

I'm going to the CRB office (418 Fleming Street) tomorrow to speak to Amanda, the Executive Director for the board and to get more information.

The board members expressed that they are equally concerned and said that they'll be following the case closely. I think that they are good people and will keep to their word. But we'll be watching and so should you all.

Anonymous said...

My families thoughts and prayers are with you. This is such a travesty. I came across this blog while looking for things to do on our upcoming April vacation in Key West.
I will be thinking of this now when I visit and almost wish I were a local so that I could demonstrate with you Janet. I will say a prayer that justice will be served. And as much as I hate to admit it, I do think you are right in saying that circumastances would probaly have been different if we were talking about a husband and wife. My thoughts and Prayers to you Mr. Luna
Sincerly,
Leslie Millane
Ixonia, WI

 
Use OpenDNS