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Worthy: No criminal charges for woman's death in Harper Woods jail

Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy won’t file any criminal charges stemming from the death of Priscilla Slater.

Slater died in the Harper Woods jailin June of last year. Her death sparked protests, especially after Harper Woods Police revealed they fired two officers for changing the police report about her death.

But Worthy said an investigation showed those changes involved postmortem observations about Slater—specifically, whether an office was qualified to determine whether she was in rigor mortis when he found her—and had nothing to do with the circumstances leading up to her death.

As for Slater’s death, Worthy said an exhaustive investigation, which included multiple medical examiner reports and a review of the jail’s internal camera surveillance system, showed that she died from natural causes.

“Ms. Slater died of natural causes, likely due to a heart attack resulting from her heart’s physical condition, though possibly exacerbated by alcohol withdrawal or fatty liver disease,” according to a news release from Worthy’s office. “Her physical signs of distress as she died were limited to only a few seconds. These facts strongly indicate that no one was criminally responsible for her death.”

Slater and her boyfriend were arrested on June 9, 2020, after gunfire was reported at a Harper Woods motel. Police arrested both of them after finding them asleep in a car outside the motel. A search of the car turned up fentanyl, which Slater admitted was hers, and a gun. Her post-mortem toxicology report was negative for drugs and alcohol.

During her short stay in jail, Slater interacted mostly with civilian aides that Harper Woods uses to monitor inmates. According to Worthy’s report, “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. There was no evidence that she was in any way harmed or mistreated while in custody.”

Slater spent most of her time in jail sleeping, though she vomited twice in her cell. The jail’s cameras captured what appears to be Slater’s death in the early morning hours of June 10, but her body was not discovered until after noon that day.

The jail’s civilian aides are required to physically check on inmates every thirty minutes, and Worthy said a log indicates the civilian aide on duty did so, though a Michigan State Police handwriting analyst “could not conclude when the boxes were filled in relative to actual time.”

While it’s unclear how Slater’s death could have gone unnoticed for hours under those circumstances, Worthy said her office found “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the civilian aide on duty when Ms. 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.”

“I have met with Ms. Slater’s sister to explain our decision in this matter. While our thoughts and prayers are with Ms. Slater’s family, for the reasons cited no charges will be issued.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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