Worthy: No charges after woman's death in Harper Woods police lockup

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News
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No charges will be issued in the death of Priscilla Slater, the African American woman who died last year in the Harper Woods Police Department lockup, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced Thursday.

Slater, 37, was found dead June 10 in a jail cell. Worthy said in a statement that Slater died of natural causes.

According to a nine-page report Worthy issued Thursday accompanying her press release, Slater and her boyfriend, both of Detroit, were arrested around 1:40 a.m. June 9 at the Parkcrest Inn in the 20000 block of Harper following a reported shooting. Officers found Slater and the boyfriend asleep in the backseat of a car in the motel's parking lot.

Priscilla Slater

Worthy's report also indicates Slater admitted to drinking but denied having taken drugs. Police found a handgun in the trunk of the car and ammunition of the same caliber in a purse that Slater admitted, according to the report, was hers. Officers also found a bag containing 11-grams of fentanyl. Slater, the report states, later admitted in a video-recorded statement that the drugs were hers for personal use.

Slater was also asked, according to the report, by a Harper Woods civilian aide during her booking: “You haven’t taken no (sic) type of drugs or anything? Let us know because if you get sick that’s the only way I can protect you.” Slater replied, “No, no I haven’t taken anything."

Worthy said Slater was "cogent and appropriate" when speaking with the police and jail staff and did not complain of any medical issues while she was in the jail. The medical issues she did note during booking were asthma, anemia and an allergy to mustard.

"There was no evidence that she was in any way harmed or mistreated while in custody," Worthy said. "An exhaustive investigation was conducted by the Michigan State Police. We have looked at all of the facts and evidence in the case."

Worthy also noted the findings of the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office and a second medical examiner.

Protesters march for Priscilla Slater in Harper Woods on July 24, 2020.

"All of the medical experts that reviewed the case determined that Ms. Slater died a natural death from Sudden Cardiac Death, in other words, a heart attack while she was in jail," said Worthy. "She had significant pre-existing factors that likely contributed to the heart attack.”  

Attorney Geoffrey Fieger said last year that Harper Woods police allowed Slater to suffer for "hours and hours" and later concealed and destroyed evidence. Fieger is representing Slater's family.

At 5:10 a.m. Slater was "supine with clenched fists," her arms were drawn toward the middle of her body and her feet were pointed away from her body "for approximately three minutes," Assistant Wayne County Medical Examiner Dr. Teresa Nguyen wrote after reviewing jail cell video and police records. Slater was pronounced dead nearly 10 hours later at 2:55 p.m., according to the report. 

Worthy said there was insufficient evidence, to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the civilian police department aide on duty when Slater died failed to perform his duties or performed them in a negligent way.

"Nor is there any way to show that in the brief period after Ms. Slater’s heart attack whether medical intervention might have saved her life,” said Worthy, who said she met with Slater's sister to explain her office's decision.

The Detroit News reported in August that the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office had ruled Slater's death was a result of natural causes. 

An exam revealed no significant evidence of injury but a postmortem toxicology test of the peripheral blood and liver tissue was positive for "caffeine, cotinine (nicotine metabolite), and products of marijuana use," according to the report.

"It is my opinion that death was caused by cardiac dysrhythmia of undetermined etiology," Nguyen wrote in the June 11 autopsy report obtained by The News in a public records request.

"She was abandoned or ignored for more than nine hours," Fieger said last year. "It's absolutely incredible to me. She got no care for almost nine hours."

The death of Slater sparked protests in Harper Woods and prompted the firings last year of a Harper Wood deputy chief and a police officer by city officials for the alleged concealment and manipulation of evidence in the Slater death investigation. 

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