Last summer 32-year old David Stojcevski was rounded up as part of a law enforcement sweep targeting Macomb County residents with warrants out for their arrest. The Roseville native's crime? Not being able to pay a $772 fine for a "careless driving" ticket. Without the money, he was headed to Macomb County Jail. While the visit was supposed to last 30-days, Stojcevski never made it that long — on day 17 he died.
Newly released surveillance footage, obtained by local TV station WDIV, has revived interest in the tragic case, bringing with it increased scrutiny to the issue of deaths in police custody.
The video, which documents Stojcevski's final 11 days, shows a man suffering. A former drug user, who had been prescribed Methadone, Klonopin and Xanax to beat his addiction, Stojcevski died of "accute withdrawal from medication," according to hospital records obtained by WDIV. This is widely apparent throughout the tape, which features Stojcevski wriggling on the floor and convulsing on various occasions.
The fact that Stojcevski needed special attention was documented when he first arrived at the jail on June 10. According to WDIV, a county nurse originally recommended that Stojcevski spend his 30-day sentence in a medical detox unit; her suggestion, however, was ignored. After six days in a traditional jail cell, Stojcevski's erratic behavior sent him to a mental health cell, which is where the video surveillance started. Monitored 24 hours a days, inmates in this unit are not given uniforms — they are deemed potential dangers — and are supposed to be evaluated by guards every 15 minutes.
While guard and nurse oversight is unclear from the video, what is obvious is a man in pain. According to WDIV Stojcevski lost 50 pounds during his 17 day stint in jail. Over the course of the video, the 32-year old is seen refusing meals and suffering through symptoms of withdrawal such as hallucinations — throwing punches at nobody in particular — and tremors. In one clip he is seen squirming to hide underneath his cell bunk bed in an attempt to avoid the cell's harsh fluorescent lights that are left on at all hours of the day.
“Like an animal, he’s crawling underneath something to die,” addiction expert Diane Rockwell commented to WDIV as she watched the surveillance video scene of Stojcevski struggling to get under the bed.
During the last 48 hours of Stojecvski's life he is seen listless on the floor, his naked body barely covered by a blanket. It is not until he is no longer moving that a guard enters the frame, beckoning for other guards and nurses to help. The tape shows one guard attempting CPR on Stojcevski before, as WDIV explains, he was transferred to a local hospital and pronounced dead.
"People do not die from withdrawal all the time," Dr. Frank McGeorge, a medical expert who specializes in custody death cases, told WDIV after viewing the tape. "They die from withdrawal when there is neglect associated with it."
This is not the first time Macomb County Jail has been accused of neglecting or mistreating its inmates. In March a prisoner civil rights lawsuit was filed on behalf of Debbie Hagerman, the mother of Ryan Hagerman a 34-year old Warren resident who was beaten to death last year by his Macomb County Jail cellmate. The case, which is scheduled for a jury trial in July 2016, names the county, Sheriff Anthony Wickersham and four deputies as defendants. Hagerman's lawsuit was followed by a separate suit by Mark Cowan — the man who killed her son. Cowan's suit, which was handwritten and names four other inmates as plaintiffs, zeros in on the mistreatment of inmates in the jail's mental health ward — the same ward where Stojcevski died. According to the Detroit Free Press, Cowan's suit accuses a deputy of "threatening, harassing and making fun of inmates in the mental health ward; threatening physical violence and tampering with their food, and turning on the cell speakers and repeatedly telling inmates he "is the one stealing their thoughts."" There is no court date set for that case.
The deaths of Stojcevski and Ryan Hagerman shed light on the increasingly visible issue of deaths in police custody. The topic took center stage this summer following the death of Sandra Bland, the African American woman who was found dead in a Texas jail cell three days after being arrested during a traffic stop. According to a 2014 analysis by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 958 inmates died in local jails in 2012 — the last time the data was recorded. This is an eight percent increase from the year prior. In December Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, which mandates that states receiving federal criminal justice assistance grants report all deaths that occur in law enforcement custody — a requirement that some hope will not only result in more accountability but put pressure on law enforcement agencies to address the practices that have allowed so many inmates across the nation to die in the hands of the state.
Stojcevski's untimely death is currently the subject of a federal "wrongful death" suit filed by his family against the Macomb County Jail this past March.