The Nassau County Medical Examiner’s office is changing the cause of death of a Freeport man from suicide to “undetermined” to settle a lawsuit from the victim’s family who maintains he was murdered.
The family of 20-year-old Johmeik Simmons, who died of a single gunshot wound to the head while two other men were present in 2016, 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 in concluding he took his own life. The settlement stopped short of the family’s goal of having authorities reclassify his death as a homicide. Authorities appear reluctant to reopen the investigation despite compelling findings of an independent probe suggesting Simmons was slain.
“This matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties,” said Christine Geed, a spokeswoman for the county.
As the Press reported, 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 finding a lack of 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.”
Nassau authorities remain noncommittal on whether they would reopen the investigation.
“The Nassau County Police Department expresses our sincere condolences to the family of Johmeik Simmons,” said Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun, the chief Nassau police spokesman. “The Homicide Squad has conducted a full investigation into his death and the department stands behind their decision that there was no criminality involved.”
The Nassau County District Attorney’s office left the door open for a possible review.
“The death of Johmeik Simmons was a tragedy, and we express our deepest condolences to his family,” said Miriam Sholder, spokesoman for the Nassau DA’s office. “While the underlying evidence in this case has not changed, any additional evidence will be examined thoroughly by this office.”
The victim’s mother maintains that suicide was highly unlikely for Simmons.
“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.”