No charges to be filed in Priscilla Slater’s death

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published June 17, 2021

 Priscilla Slater

Priscilla Slater

HARPER WOODS — The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office announced May 20 that there will be no charges filed in the death of Harper Woods resident Priscilla Slater.

Slater had been taken into custody by the Harper Woods Department of Public Safety on June 9, 2020. The department said that personnel found her unresponsive in her cell at approximately 12:35 p.m. June 10, and medical assistance was immediately administered. An Ascension St. John Hospital physician pronounced Slater dead at 12:45 p.m., according to department officials. The department handed over the investigation to the Michigan State Police and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“An exhaustive investigation was conducted by the Michigan State Police,” Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said in a press release. “We have looked at all of the facts and evidence in the case. This included the findings of the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office, as well as those of an independent medical examiner. It took several months to obtain Ms. Slater’s medical records which were important to any findings made in this case. 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. She had significant pre-existing factors that likely contributed to the heart attack.”

Worthy said the investigation determined that no charges were warranted as a result of Slater’s death.

“She 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. This case investigation took an extraordinary amount of time and attention due to a number of circumstances outlined in our press release,” said Worthy. “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.”

Attorney John Gillooly, who is representing the city of Harper Woods, said that these findings are in line with what the city has maintained throughout the course of the investigation.

“The city of Harper Woods has always maintained that this was a very tragic event for the family involved, but also for the officers and staff as well,” Gillooly said. “We have always maintained that the public should have a wait-and-see approach for this investigation. Now that the experts have looked at this case for months and months, it does appear that Ms. Slater died of natural causes and that there was absolutely no wrongful conduct on the part of any city of Harper Woods employee.”

In the course of the investigation, two Harper Woods police officers, Deputy Chief John Vorgitch and patrol officer Michael Pineau, were fired from the department. This was due to Pineau, who was the first officer to find Slater’s body, being allegedly told by Vorgitch to alter his report to remove a reference to observing rigor mortis in Slater.

“There’s going to be no criminal charges for any Harper Woods city employee in regard to anything that occurred the night of Ms. Slater’s death,” Gillooly said. “It was a matter of Mr. Pineau being told to remove the term ‘rigor mortis’ from his report, which he was not qualified to determine, which is why it was taken out. … Both officers who were let go are working with labor counsel in the matter and are working to return to their previous positions within the department.”

Worthy said her office found no reason to charge any employee of the Harper Woods Department of Public Safety.

“There is also 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.”

Attorney Mark Porter, who is representing Pineau, confirmed in an email that both Pineau and Vorgitch were invited to rejoin the department.

“I can confirm that an amicable resolution was reached with the city through the good faith efforts of all concerned,” Porter wrote. “By agreement, however, the terms and conditions of the resolution remain confidential, and I cannot comment further upon them.”

Gillooly said that this case demonstrates that it is important to wait until all of the facts are in when regarding such cases.

“Unfortunately we cannot guarantee there will never be any incidents like this in the future. Deaths of those incarcerated in jails happen all too frequently, but we are always looking at ways to improve the department, both on the street and in the jail. It is a constant process and one that should never stop,” he said. “It’s always important to wait for the facts and wait for the experts to do their jobs and not rush to conclusions when the facts are unknown. While that takes some time, the process is the most important factor, all of the time.”

Geoffrey Fieger, who is representing Priscilla Slater’s family, did not respond to multiple attempts for comment.