A newly-obtained autopsy report has concluded that a 43-year old Florida man's death after being violently restrained by jailers was a homicide by strangulation.
On 17 January, 2021, Kevin Desir became unresponsive after a struggle with six deputies at the North Broward Bureau facility, a jail operated by the Broward county sheriff's office (BSO) in south Florida. The jail specifically detains arrestees who have mental and physical disabilities, as well as those with mental health problems.
During the incident, Desir was handcuffed, punched repeatedly, tasered, and pepper sprayed by officers, and lost consciousness after the deputies attempted to strap him into a restraint chair.
One deputy interlocked hands on Desir's neck from behind and used "his body weight to leverage Desir back into the chair", according to a memo from the Broward county state attorney's office.
Desir died in the hospital on 27 January 2021, with an official autopsy conducted by the Broward county medical examiner's office on 28 January 2021 finding that Desir's cause and manner of death were undetermined.
However a private autopsy was also conducted around the same time and its conclusion was very different, the Guardian can now exclusively reveal.
In February this year, before the private autopsy report was complete, the state attorney's office announced it was declining to prosecute any of the six officers involved, announcing that Desir's death was justifiable.
Desir's family has been campaigning since for a measure of justice for their late loved one.
They are fighting in court to have jail surveillance video of Kevin's forcible restraint, while he appeared to be suffering a mental health episode, released to the public.
Kevin's mother, 73-year-old Sercilia Desir, told the Guardian last week: "They [need] to release the tapes, so I can see how they killed my son."
The report from the private autopsy requested by the family has been obtained by the Guardian as part of a broader investigation. The report found that Desir died from "manual strangulation" and concluded that his death was a homicide after "neck and carotid arteries [were] compressed" during "law enforcement restraint attempt".
The private autopsy report took almost 21 months to finalize after Desir's body was examined. BSO refused requests for access to several of Desir's medical records, according to emails.
A family lawyer expressed skepticism.
"Any time you release half of them but you keep some [documents], that's an indication that there's something that they're hiding, some back-dealing going on," said attorney Jeremy McLymont, who is working with the Desir family to seek greater accountability from the authorities and secure the public release of the surveillance video.
The private autopsy, conducted on 31 January 2021, by Dr Daniel Schultz of Hillsborough county, Florida, whom the Desir family hired, included a review of the video footage, medical records and collected specimens.
Of finding that Kevin Desir's neck was pressed for more than three minutes, regardless of other use of force, the autopsy report concludes: "A completely healthy individual under no prerequisite stress could succumb to that."
Two sheriff's deputies working at the jail who had the most physical contact with Desir during the brutal incident, Ryan Daniel and Jeremiah Howard, were not charged or disciplined and also received glowing internal reviews from BSO after the incident.
While Daniel and Howard were recommended to receive extra training, they only received part of such training and not until more than a year after Desir's death.
"The idea that two medical examiners could come up with two completely different causes of death is mind-blowing," said McLymont.
In light of the new private-autopsy report, a Broward county state attorney office spokeswoman, Paula McMahon, told the Guardian last week that prosecutors would be "very willing to review" that autopsy's findings.
The Broward county medical examiner's office, which conducted the first, official, autopsy, did not comment on the differences between the two findings, but said that "every examination is separate and independent" from law enforcement and noted that Desir's official autopsy included a review of detailed records, including "review of the complete video".
BSO did not comment on the private autopsy findings, but told the Guardian they stand by Howard and Daniel's reviews and that recommended training was "not an indication that the employees did anything wrong".
Mikeco Desir, Kevin's younger brother, said: "To have somebody snatched from you like this, it's something that will never sit well with me."