Law Enforcement South Georgia Local News

Family Upset After GBI Releases Cause of In-Custody Death in Savannah

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has released the cause of death after an investigation of an in-custody death which occurred while a man was in an interview room at the Savannah Police Department.

The GBI said Friday that the agency was requested by the Savannah Police Department on April 3, 2021 to investigate the in-custody death of 60-year-old William Harvey who was being questioned as part of an aggravated assault investigation.

From the GBI press release issued April 16:

The investigation indicates that Harvey was being questioned in an aggravated assault investigation.  Officers stepped out of the interview room and returned to find Harvey unconscious with injuries to his neck caused by a pair of Harvey’s shoelaces.  Officers attempted life saving measures; however, Harvey died as a result of his injuries.

The GBI Medical Examiner has provided a preliminary cause & manner of death as suicide by hanging.

The GBI’s findings are the same as Savannah PD’s.

The family of Harvey through Statesboro attorney Francys Johnson told the media on Friday that the cause of death was not told to them by the GBI and that they still found the circumstances to be unacceptable. Preliminary findings earlier in April pointed to a suicide, but Johnson called the findings by the GBI a “PR stunt to support the Savannah Police Department.”

“We expect that people who go into a police department for questioning would emerge alive and not in a body bag,” said Francys Johnson, attorney. “We would assume that a police department and an interrogation room would be a place of high scrutiny, that a person would be under surveillance, and that their movements would be checked,”  he said in a statement published by Fox28 in Savannah.

William Harvey’s sister said the circumstances seem ‘virtually impossible’ and the family is slated to meet with the GBI on Monday to better understand how the GBI reached that conclusion. Johnson said the family is meeting with GBI Director Vic Reynolds.

“If the footage is in alignment with the narrative that has been released now twice… If that video shows that, then what it shows is a great tragedy and that would be unfortunate but that would be the truth and we could put this to rest,” Johnson said in a press conference.

Neither the GBI nor the Savannah Police Department have commented publicly as to whether or not footage from the interrogation room exists.

The GBI investigation is still active and ongoing. Once it is completed, it will be turned over to the Eastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney for review. The Savannah Police Department is also working an internal investigation on the matter.

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