The mysterious death of a Wilmar, Minnesota Black man in police custody

The family of George Edward Washington, a 56 year-old African American, was shocked when they were notified on Sunday, January 7, 2018, that their father had died while in police custody in the Kandiyohi County Jail in Wilmar, Minnesota. The incident explains Thurgood Marshall’s insistence on the importance of both the idea of justice and the actual pursuit and practice of justice without any discrimination. Neither are done well when procedures are not understood and practiced by all.

How it has been handled in Kandiyohi County is a reminder to tighten law enforcement procedures and their practices year-round and especially for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in February, when the whole world will be watching.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported this incident in its January 9, 2018 story (but did not identify him as an African American). The Star Tribune’s coverage, and the coverage on my national radio broadcast that same day, is self-explanatory. The Sheriff of Kandiyohi County says his department is conducting the investigation.

Mr. Washington was arrested for a DWI. Yet, the authorities on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday would not make the report available, nor would they explain why they said he was acting crazy and why he was placed on suicide watch. “Crazy,” is code for a Black person being viewed as a threat.

And yet, his daughter told me that when she talked to him when he called her, he sounded fine.

The authorities said he was found at 1:30 pm, CST. They said they had all the information and yet were still unable to produce any documents on him when his daughter arrived at the county jail. Our observation is that the investigation has been tainted, and that the autopsy will be tainted as well. We fear there will be no justice for Mr. Washington.

Will the sheriff explain both the mysteries caused by sloppiness and the intentional mysteries?  Hence, the family has asked the FBI and the BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) to also conduct an investigation.

Friends and supporters of Mr. Washington also asked about a number of seemingly haphazard procedures that were carried out by the county sheriff’s department after Washington’s death. At first they said he was not deceased. Only after Mr. Washington’s daughter inquired, did the Kandiyohi Sheriff’s Department correctly reverse themselves and state that Mr. Washington was indeed deceased.

They said his body was sent to Anoka County, after first saying the body was transported from the Kandiyohi County Jail to Anderson’s funeral home in Wilmar, and then 80 miles east to the offices of the Mid-West Medical Examiners Association in Ramsey, Minnesota.

Why was this information intentionally used to mislead not only the family, but also others who inquired?

The confusion, sloppiness or mystery (call it what you will) is all extremely traumatic for any family suffering grief and to civil rights activists seeking justice. Authorities now say, and we were the first to report it when this column was submitted to our editor, that an autopsy has been completed. The Kandiyohi Sheriff’s Office is investigating itself and will make the findings known at some time in the future.

Some will think this is trivial. It is never trivial when families lose a loved one, far from it.  Death matters. Life matters. Accurate reporting matters. And far from being trivial, it is important for Minnesota authorities in general, and Minnesota law enforcement, in particular, to be prepared for their security roles at the Super Bowl in Minneapolis in February. All must know how to handle and report on any and all incidents that will happen.

Stay tuned.

 

Ron hosts radio and TV shows. To read his solutions papers, books, and archives, go to www.TheMinneapolisStory.com.