Nassau County investigators improperly concluded that a 20-year-old Freeport man’s 2016 shooting death was a suicide instead of a homicide, according to a lawsuit that the victim’s family filed last month.
The family of Johmeik Simmons, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head while two others were present, remains unconvinced that the college-bound former high school football star would take his own life and believes that Nassau police and medical examiners erred. The suit seeks to have authorities reclassify his death as a homicide and then investigate the case as such.
“My son would not kill himself,” Simmons’ mother and the plaintiff in the suit, Tihesha Climer, told WNBC New York, which first reported the story. “He had everything to live for. He’d just beaten cancer.”
Simmons was shot in the head Nov. 16, 2016, inside a house in Freeport. The two other males present told police that he pulled out a gun and shot himself, according to the lawsuit filed in Nassau court by Manhattan-based attorney Abe George. He was comatose for five days and died Nov. 20.
The county medical examiner’s office declared his death a suicide the next day and Homicide Squad detectives closed the case in July 2017 after they were unable to find any leads supporting the family’s theory, the suit states.
The family hired a private investigator, ex-New York City police homicide detective Eddie Dowd, who raised numerous questions about the county’s conclusions. Among them was the fact that Simmons’ wound lacked the gunpowder residue, pattern, and angle typical of a close-range gunshot, “the gunshot wound being made to a part of the head that is atypical in cases of suicide,” and that he was shot on the right side of the head despite being left handed, according to the suit.
The county medical examiner’s autopsy report, which was included as evidence in the case, confirms the independent investigator’s review of the gunpowder residue, known as stippling.
“There is no evidence of barrel impression, soot, or stippling noted around the entrance wound,” the county medical examiner states in the autopsy report.
Dr. Jonathan Arden, a forensic pathologist and former New York City medical examiner, also reviewed the crime scene photographs and issued a report for the family.
“Both the circumstances of the shooting and the features of the gunshot wound itself are inconsistent with this having been a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Dr. Arden wrote in his report. “The circumstances and the shooting scene strongly suggest that this gunshot wound was inflicted by another person.
“It is very unusual for a person to commit suicide with other people present, especially when not in his own residence, where anyone else present would likely only be close family members,” Dr. Arden continued, noting that the blood splatter pattern, broken glass, and broken wall suggest foul play. “The shooting scene has strong indications that an altercation occurred.”
Dowd and Dr. Arden concluded that Simmons’ manner of death ought to be certified as a homicide and an an independent crime scene analyst corroborated their observations of the crime scene, the suit states.
The county maintains that its investigators made the right call. County attorneys asked Judge Randy Sue Marber to dismiss the case, which names the county and Dr. Tamara Bloom, the county’s chief medical examiner, as defendants.
“The Nassau County Medical Examiner’s Office disagrees with the consultant’s conclusion,” Christine Geed, a county spokeswoman, is quoted as saying in the court documents. “We base our opinion on correlation of all available information regarding circumstances proved by NCPD that is consistent with the autopsy findings. The manner of death in this case will remain the same.”
Both sides are scheduled to appear back in court on Sept. 24.