Harper Woods mayor's wife apologizes for action at protest over detainee's death

Harper Woods — With furor growing over the death of a woman in police custody last week, the wife of Harper Woods' mayor apologized Monday after being accused of tearing up a protester's sign at a demonstration over the incident.

Margaret Poynter, who is married to Mayor Kenneth Poynter, also offered her condolences to the family of Priscilla Slater, 37, who died a day after being arrested at a Harper Woods motel.

Footage aired by WXYZ (Ch. 7) of a Friday night protest over Slater's death showed Poynter holding a sign and being confronted by demonstrators, with one of them saying afterward that she had ripped it up.

Margaret Poynter, left, makes a brief statement next to her husband, Harper Woods mayor Kenneth Poynter, right,  outside city hall in Harper Woods, Mich. on June 15, 2020.

Reading a brief statement she acknowledged was directed to Slater's family, Poynter said she had attended the Friday demonstration to offer condolences to them.

"I understood the sorrow they had. I was here to support them," she said. "My intention was never, never to be disrespectful. I am sorry for any actions that appear to show that I was disrespectful. And I assure you it will never happen again."

She did not take questions afterward.

City officials earlier put six police department employees — two supervisors and four civilian aides — on administrative leave in response to Slater's death, which occurred a day after she was arrested June 9 at the Parkcrest Inn in the 20000 block of Harper.

That morning, police responding to reports of shots fired arrested Slater and at least one other person, Lewis Nichols, 27, who is charged with 20 felonies related to the incident.

More:Detroit man, 27, charged in shooting incident outside Harper Woods hotel

A Michigan State Police background check for Slater shows a June 9 arrest for one felony count related to "dangerous drugs."

Harper Woods police and the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office have declined to disclose specifics surrounding Slater's arrest. 

Police had requested charges against Slater, but Maria Miller, spokeswoman for Prosecutor Kym Worthy, said the request was denied due to her death. Miller declined to say specifically what Slater was accused of, as did police.

"Out of respect for her family, I won't release the charges," Vincent Smith, chief of Harper Woods police, said Monday in an email. "Ms. Slater would have faced felony charges if she had not passed away." 

Geoffrey Fieger, attorney for the family, said Monday it doesn't matter why Slater was arrested — what matters is how her condition deteriorated to the point that she died in police custody.

"She had to be exhibiting (symptoms) that would have required immediate medical care, and she didn't get it," Fieger said. 

In a statement three days after the arrests, police said Nichols had allegedly been firing shots outside the inn, leading guests to call 911. No one was hit, but police said they recovered 18 nine-millimeter shell casings.

When Harper Woods police arrived at the scene, they found Nichols "in the rear seat of a vehicle parked in the rear parking lot of the Parkcrest Inn," the statement said. Police arrested him and recovered the gun, the statement said.

It doesn't mention a second arrest. 

Nichols' Michigan State Police background check notes his June 9 arrest was on suspicion of two counts of felony assault and three counts of felony weapons offenses, and one count of the same offense Slater was arrested for, "dangerous drugs."

But all 20 of Nichols' felony charges involve guns and violence, and none involve drugs. 

"The well-being of all detainees is of the highest priority," Harper Woods said in a statement announcing Slater's death and the Michigan State Police investigation into it.

But other than confirming its investigation, Michigan State Police declined comment.

"We don't discuss the details of our investigations in the media," said Lt. Mike Shaw, a spokesman and commander for the state police, in a text message. "Once it's completed we will forward it to the prosecutor for review."

It's not clear how Slater died.  Autopsy results from the Wayne County Medical Examiner were not immediately available. When autopsies involve toxicology reports, they can take weeks or even months to come back.

"I will find out why she was left lying on the floor of a jail cell, with no medical care," Fieger said.