A grand jury will likely be called to investigate the death of a 32-year-old man who was taken into police custody last month after a rampage at a liquor store.
Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said Tuesday he will need to see the autopsy report for Michael A. Harris of Omaha before making a final decision. State law requires a grand jury to be convened when someone dies in jail, in police custody or during an arrest.
“I will want to see the autopsy results, but if he was handcuffed, it’s likely we’ll call a grand jury,” Kleine said. “If (Harris) died because of something that happened at the hospital, a grand jury might not be needed.”
Omaha police on Tuesday night said Harris’ death occurred while he was in custody.
Harris died Monday night at Immanuel Medical Center, a police spokesman said. He was taken to the hospital Sept. 19 after police were called to Sugar Hill Liquor at 5627 Ames Ave. by workers who say Harris attempted to assault another customer with a bottle.
According to a police report, the employees told officers that Harris entered the store about 11 p.m. and “said something about having been in a fight.” The employees intervened when Harris, who was 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, “picked up a bottle over his head” and seemed ready to smash it into the head of another customer.
One employee was pushed through the glass door of a large refrigerator and another employee was bitten on the arm during the ensuing struggle. Liquor store owner Joyce Westbrook-Davis declined to comment on Harris’ death other than to say she and her staff had been hoping and praying for his recovery.
The report said Harris was placed in a police cruiser, where a camera recorded some bizarre behavior. He caused considerable damage to the cruiser despite being handcuffed and having “flex cuffs” placed on his ankles.
Harris, the report said, “began eating pieces of the headliner which he had pulled down and the wiring behind it.” Harris was said to be “extremely uncooperative” and Omaha Fire Department paramedics were unable to treat him.
“At one point he began chewing on his hands, causing severe lacerations,” the report said. “He also pulled out three of his own teeth and possibly ate one of his socks.”
At Immanuel, police said Harris was restrained on a bed in the emergency room. At that time, the report said, his heart stopped and he had to be resuscitated.
Police suspected that Harris was under the influence of drugs. Kevin Harris of Omaha, the dead man’s father, said he doesn’t know if that was true. There might have been some medical reason for the behavior, he said.
“I saw him five minutes before (the incident), and he was fine,” Harris said. “I went back to see why he hadn’t shown up at my place and the lady at the store said, ‘Something’s wrong with your son. He was fighting like a madman.’ ”
An officer gave the elder Harris a ride to the hospital, where he said he was unable to see his son but spoke with a doctor. He said the doctor told him that he was worried about the length of time Michael Harris’ brain had gone without oxygen.
The father said his son never regained consciousness and he later learned that his son would have severe brain damage if he ever recovered. “The doctor said that he would be blind and be like a 3-year-old” if he recovered.
Kevin Harris said he wants to know what happened to his son, who worked as an auto salesman and wrote rap tunes in his spare time.
“He wrote and produced rap,” the elder Harris said. “That was his life’s passion.”
In addition to his father, Michael Harris is survived by two young children; his mother, Alicia Gullie; brothers Kevin Harris Jr. and Joshua; and sisters Lisa Harris and Monique Farmer, all of Omaha.