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ME to change cause of death for Freeport HS football star

Tihesha Climer, mother of Johmeik Simmons, holds a

Tihesha Climer, mother of Johmeik Simmons, holds a photo of her son at state Supreme Court in Mineola on Monday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The Nassau Medical Examiner will change the cause of death listed for a former Freeport High School football star from suicide to "undetermined" after a veteran forensic pathologist found the case should be ruled a homicide.

That agreement was reached in State Supreme Court Monday after the mother of Johmeik Simmons, 20, petitioned for the change, contending her son did not kill himself.

Simmons died of a gunshot wound inside a friend's bedroom in Freeport on Nov. 15, 2016. Two young men who were in the room at the time of the shooting told police that Simmons, upset after a fight with his father, shot himself in the head, according to court papers.

On Feb. 22, 2017, Nassau Medical Examiner Tamara Bloom's office ruled Simmons' death a suicide.

Simmons' mother, Tihesha Climer of Fresh Meadows, Queens, disagreed with the findings and filed a petition to change the listed cause of death. Her son recently had been found to be healthy after a diagnosis of Hodgkin's lymphoma — a cancer of the lymphatic system — when he was a freshman at Nassau Community College. The former captain of the Freeport High School football team had returned to school, had a girlfriend and a job as a doorman, Climer said.

"My son was not depressed," Climer said Monday. "He had no problems. ... He had no reason to kill himself."

The agreement to change the cause of death, reached before Justice Randy Sue Marber, did not order either prosecutors or police to reinvestigate the case. It takes effect 30 days after the ruling.

County spokesman Christine Geed said “This matter has been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties.”

Miriam Sholder, spokeswoman for Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, said in a statement: “The death of Johmeik Simmons was a tragedy. While the underlying evidence in this case has not changed, any additional evidence will be examined thoroughly by this office.”

Singas' office said previously that it had conducted an independent review of Simmons' death, concluding there was insufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime.

In a statement, Nassau police spokesman Richard LeBrun said: “The Homicide Squad has conducted a full investigation into his death and the department stands behind their decision that there was no criminality involved.”

Climer and her attorney, Abe George of Manhattan, commissioned an outside review of Bloom's findings by Dr. Jonathan Arden, who previously served as New York City's first deputy chief medical examiner.

Arden's report concluded that Simmons death failed to show the telltale signs of suicide. No gunshot residue was found on Simmons' body, the report found, and the weapon was not fired at close range. The wound was to Simmons' upper forehead while most suicides occur at the temple, in the mouth or under the chin, and Simmons was shot on the right side of his head despite being lefthanded, the report found.

"The evidence is compelling that Mr. Simmons was shot by another person," Arden's report states. "In my opinion, Mr. Simmons did not commit suicide. Rather, he was shot by another."

Marber, in her Jan. 22 ruling granting the Monday hearing that led to the agreement, said: "It is undisputed that at least two males were in the Freeport home with the decedent at the time of the shooting." 

The two young men in the home with Simmons told police he appeared upset, pulled out a gun and shot himself, according to court papers. Simmons was taken to Nassau University Medical Center, where he was comatose for five days before being pronounced dead.

Climer contends the facts of the case do not add up. Her son did not own a gun, she said. Crime scene photographs show broken objects and shattered glass, indicating an altercation, Arden's report states. And when her son's cellphone was returned to her three days after the shooting, all text messages had been deleted, Climer said.

Private investigators hired by George found the county did not send forensic evidence from the case to a lab for testing until months after the shooting, but that Simmons' death was ruled a suicide before the results were received.

"Unfortunately I think this is lazy police work," said George, a former Manhattan homicide prosecutor. "I don't think the effort extended in this case is the effort that would have been extended in other cases."

Climer said her son's death has destroyed her family.

"We are no longer the same. Johmeik was an integral part of my family and without him we are no longer that close-knit family," she said.

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