At approximately 2:00p.m., paramedics at the nearby Fire and Rescue Station received a call from a girl calling from 14655 Tynewick Drive, Silver Spring, Maryland, claiming a suicide had been committed. Rescue personnel arrived on the scene with paramedic Dallas Lipp in charge. Chip Wynn (who lived in the house), Claudia “Michelle” Lawson (Mr. Wynn’s girlfriend, who made the 911 call) and a third person were seated at the kitchen table. Dalllas Lipp, going on what Michelle Lawson reported in her call, asked to be directed to the location in the house where the suicide had taken place. He was informed that the body was in the woods s short distance from the house. The change in the story was puzzling to Mr. Lipp. Mr. Lipp also had expected the young people to be upset or distressed, but he observed that their attitude very ”matter-of-fact.”
Mr. Lipp asked the men at the table to direct him to the body, but they declined and told Michelle Lawson to take the paramedic to the scene. Michelle Lawson changed her story and said that she was walking her dog in the woods and came upon a body hanging from a tree. However, after arriving at the hanging and making a close observation, Mr . Lipp remarked, “This does not look like a suicide.”
Officer Luther Leverette from the Wheaton/Glenmont Police Station responded to the scene and took charge. In just minutes Detective Beasley /Officer Leverette ruled the death a suicide. The ruling was made before any family or friends were questioned. Officer Leverette did not cordon off the area. Officer Leverette stated in his report that Keith had “apparently jumped off a log.”
Paramedic Dallas Lipp stated that there was no log or any other object from which Keith could have jumped. Without notifying the family or seeking their identification of Keith or authorization, Detective Beasley/ Officer Leverette had the body removed from the tree and delivered to Collins Funeral Home in Silver Spring with instructions to have the body embalmed immediately. For the record, Officer Leverette was an African-American police officer.
After releasing the body, Officer Leverette drove to Keith Warren’s home. No one was home. Keith’s mother, Mary Couey was at work at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Officer Leverette knocked on the neighbor’s door, and Barbara Nichols responded. Officer Leverette showed Barbara Nichols a Polaroid picture of Keith hanging from the tree and asked her to identify him. Barbara Nichols gave Officer
Leverette Mary Couey’s work number and offered the use of a phone. Officer Leverette did not call Mary Couey, but he kept hanging around the neighborhood, waiting in his car. Barbara Nichols explained to Officer Leverette that Mary Couey worked late hours and would not be home for a long time, therefore it would be better to call Mary Couey at work. Officer Leverette still refused to call Keith’s mother, Mary Couey.
Later, Officer Leverette drove to Glenmont Chrysler where Keith had worked for approximately six months. Officer Leverette went to the front desk and spoke with Ms. Leah Rosenthal. Office Leverette asked for Keith, and Leah Rosenthal responded that she did not know if he was working that day. Officer Leverette then explained to Leah Rosenthal that Keith had committed suicide, but that his mother didn’t
At approximately 5:00p.m., Mary Couey received a phone call from her next-door neighbor, Barbara Nichols, who was very distraught and upset. Barbara Nichols gave no details, but told Mary Couey to call the police and ask for Officer Leverette.
Mary Couey called the police station, but was told Officer Leverette was on another call and would be out for two hours
At 7:15pm, Officer Leverette arrived at Walter Reed and asked for Mary Couey. Note that Mary Couey, Keith’s mother and next of kin was not notified of her sons death until approximately seven hours after officer Leverette reported to the scene, even though three forms of identifications were found on Keith’s body, and even though Mary Couey’s neighbor gave Officer Leverrette Mrs. Couey’s work number and
offered him the use of a phone. Officer Leverette showed a picture of Keith hanging from the tree to Mary’s Couey’s neighbor and told people at Keith’s place of employment that Keith had committed suicide before the mother was notified.
The following would appear to be either violations of police procedure, or carelessness and lack of judgment on the part of Officer Leverette:
1) The scene was not cordoned off to protect evidence.
2) No investigation was done to confirm whether the death was suicide or a homicide.
3) Neither an autopsy nor toxicological tests were performed on the body.
4) The next-of-kin were not notified right away.
5)Several people were notified of Keith’s death before the family.
6) The body was hastily embalmed without identification or authorization by the next-of-kin.
When Officer Leverette spoke with Mary Couey at her office, he asked her if she would give him any reasons why Keith would commit suicide. Mary Couey was in shock. Officer Leverette insisted on interrogating Mary Couey despite the fact that she was in shock and that there was no witness present. Mary Couey, being in shock and trying to cooperate with the police, listed any problems Keith had
recently encountered. Mary Couey was so distraught she had to be sedated and counseled by a Chaplain. Looking back, Mary Couey understands that these were all normal teenage normal teenage problems and that Keith did not show any signs of being suicidal. However, Officer Leverette later used Mary’s words to try to prove that Keith had committed suicide (note also that Officer Leverette had already pronounced Keith’s death a suicide, even before questioning the family). Mary asked Officer Leverette if drugs might be involved. His response was, “Oh no. It wasn’t drugs.” Officer Leverette then handed Mary Couey a Collins Funeral Home business card. Mary Couey thought that Officer Leverette gave her the card as a referral in case she wanted to use the funeral home for Keith. He never mentioned that Keith was already there and that Officer Leverette had already requested that the body be embalmed without authorization from the family.
After Mary Couey spoke with Officer Leverette, she immediately called her brother, Robert (”Pete”) Harris who lived in North Carolina. Pete Harris immediately drove up to Maryland, arriving at Mary Couey’s house at around midnight. He then went to the Wheaton/Glenmont Police station to get directions to the morgue. Someone at the police station told Pete Harris that Keith was at the Collins Funeral Home and gave him directions.
Pete Harris immediately drove to the Collins Funeral Home to identify Keith’s body. Up to this point, no one in Keith’s family had identified the body or been asked to do so. Mr. Harris was denied entrance to the Collins Funeral Home, and was told to come back at 9:00a.m.