The in-custody death of Raymond Eacret
Raymond Eacret, 34 years old and a proud Yurok Tribal Member from Trinidad Rancheria, of Eureka, CA, died “in custody” in the Humboldt County Correctional Center on Friday, June 26, 2015. Raymond was held on a misdemeanor charge and was due to be released that evening. Then something went horribly wrong. Just hours earlier his mother, Sheila Eacret, received a message telling her ‘not to worry and charges were dropped,’ her son would be released around dinner time, 4pm, that very day. Relief would soon turn into deep sorrow, grief and outrage. The next time Sheila would see her son would be after his death, framed as a “suicide” by Humboldt County officials, his lifeless body bludgeoned.
“I was refused to see my son until after the autopsy which was against all Native rights,” Sheila Eacret said, “I had every right to prepare him spiritually due to his being Native American with a roll number. Denied that right, I was angry and confused.”
A number of conflicting reports have surfaced, including the police narrative, which was amplified via most news outlets. Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said in a press release that Raymond was found by an unnamed Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) correctional deputy “hanging from a makeshift noose that was wrapped around his neck” in the medical section of the Humboldt County Jail. There is also a conflicting report in which another officer is stated to have said Raymond was laying in his bed when he was discovered dead.
Another person, who was in the medical department at the time Raymond was brought there, told Sheila Eacret there is “no way someone could take their own life in medical.” This person also said that when Raymond was brought to medical he had been horribly beaten and that he was unconscious. The Sheriff’s press release states “life saving efforts were immediately initiated…This incident is currently under joint investigation by the HCSO and the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO).” Or, in other words, Humboldt County is investigating itself on this matter.
When Sheila Eacret was finally able to see her son Raymond, she was horrified. Raymond was covered in bruises–he had two black eyes and his nose was broken. His torso also appeared to had been kicked multiple times. Raymond’s back was broken. Sheila described ribs that stuck out with swellings around the wounds the “size of watermelons.” There was a cut about three inches deep in Raymond’s neck and whatever was used to caused this deep cut was also used to strangle him. It did not go all the way around his neck. One of Raymond’s ears was bleeding and bruised. Clearly, he was the victim of a horrible, violent assault.
“Our Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, the County Jail and Coroner’s office are one in the same, they run all three, they are in it together,” said Shelia Eacret. “To get any kind of justice or truth you have to get at least one (entity) away from here.”
Sheila took pictures of her son’s injuries and demanded an independent autopsy and secured a lawyer. She is fighting for justice so that no other mother has to go through what she is experiencing. She doesn’t believe the Humboldt County system should be investigating itself.
“My son wasn’t the first young Native American to mysteriously be hung in this jail and die, there was a 25-year-old Native American from Hoopa that was also killed in there on a misdemeanor and was going to get out. Our system is flawed and allows authorities and deputies to kill anyone in that jail and get away with it. I think officers should have to obey the same laws they are suppose to uphold and should be held accountable for murder like anyone else. A badge and key does not give them the right to take someone’s life. They will be held accountable for this crime.”
That 25-year-old Native brother from Hoopa is a Yurok man named James “Hans” Peters, who was brought into the Humboldt County Jail in late June 2007. According to the Sheriff’s Office, in August 2007, James Hans Peters was being held in a solitary cell after he had “assaulted a correctional officer” and was waiting to be transferred to Napa State Hospital for a court ordered psych eval. It was on August 29, 2007 that James Hans Peters was said to have “hung himself with torn bed sheets” from a vent in the ceiling. Officers did not inform Hans’ family (he was called Hans by those close to him) of his death.
After hearing the news from an anonymous hospital employee, the family went to the Humboldt County Jail in search of their son and demanding answers. The Sheriff’s Office responded sternly and threatened to have the family arrested. Hans’ mother and relatives were not allowed to see Hans’ body for over 20 hours. James “Hans” Peters was killed/died in custody in Humboldt County Jail within three months of two other victims, Peter Stewart and Martin Cotton. All three men were disabled, all three had been diagnosed with mental illnesses.
Raymond Eacret is one of many Loved Ones to die violently while in police custody in the United States.
On July 13, 2015 a 24-year-old pregnant Lakota Woman and mother of two, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, was being held in Brown County Jail in Aberdeen, South Dakota. She was complaining of excrutiating pain. She was denied medical care, told to “quit faking,” and was dragged to a holding cell so officers and other inmates would not hear her screams. She died shortly after.
In November 2015 it was reported that in that year there have been at least 550 in-custody deaths in Texas alone so far. Five hundred and fifty human beings, just in the state of Texas.
One of those 550 people managed to make it to the forefront of national media. Just one, and she was a woman. She died the same day as Sarah Lee Circle Bear, on July 13, 2015. And she was Black. Her name is Sandra Bland.
Raymond Eacret’s violent death also happens within a greater context of in-custody deaths caused by law enforcement in the state of California. Deaths like 23 year old Victoria Arellano, an HIV-positive Transgender woman and migrant from Mexico, who had been detained at a mens’ Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in May of 2007 in South Los Angeles. Victoria started showing signs of illness and pleaded (along with other male detainees) that she receive medical care. Her request for medical care was denied and Victoria died on July 20, 2007. There’s also the recent mysterious in-custody deaths of Kristen Hamilton, 51, of Antioch who died in West County Jail in April 2015 and Elizabeth Gaunt, 56, of Santa Rosa who died at Lake County Jail in August of 2015.
Almost every single victim of in-custody deaths in California—and nationwide—have at least one of these things in common: being Indigenous, Black, Disabled and/or Poor. Recently, the Idriss Stelley Foundation (ISF) has organized an action called #IdidDIEinSanFranciscoCustody, which includes formal demands for the treatment of Disabled detainees and transparency regarding recent in-custody deaths at the San Francisco County Jail. One demand being no more in-custody deaths. In the past two years, the ISF has advocated for the families of those killed in-custody and investigated the violent wrongful in custody deaths of five men: Alvin Hayes, Alberto Petrolino, Antolin Marenco, Brette Robinson, and Darnell Benson. All five were Disabled, and each are Indigenous, Black and or Poor. These violent deaths are far from isolated, and they are all related.
Since the death of her son Raymond Eacret, Sheila Eacret has been grieving. She has also taken a stand. She is demanding justice so that no other Mother has to experience what she is going through. In being vocal in a rural area, Sheila is being harassed and terrorized by members of law enforcement in and around Eureka, CA. She is being profiled, singled out, and threatened for fighting for justice for her son. The press and police are in it together, vilifying her family. One of the officers acknowledged knowing her son, Raymond, as a scare tactic.
Raymond’s Mother, Sheila Eacret, who is grieving the loss of her son, does not feel safe. She fears for her life.
Lisa Ganser is a white Disabled genderqueer artist from the Mission District of San Francisco recently transplanted to Olympia, WA. They are the daughter of a momma named Sam and this is their first story as a writer for POOR Magazine.
This article was originally in POOR Magazine, based in Oakland, CA. The organization is a poor people led/indigenous people led non-profit, grassroots, arts organization dedicated to providing revolutionary media access, arts, education and solutions from youth, adults and elders in poverty across Pachamama (Mother Earth).