Montgomery County Council Member Hans Riemer is seeking an independent investigation into how the police department handled the 1986 death of a 19-year-old man in Silver Spring.
Keith Warren was found hanging from a tree in a wooded area near his Silver Spring home. His death was classified as “suicide,” but his family has called the police evidence and investigation into question for years, asking for his death to be reclassified as “unknown.”
Riemer said he spoke with Keith Warren’s sister, Sherri Warren, about the case and felt compelled to request for the independent investigation.
In a letter to Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich on Thursday, Riemer wrote that the Warren family “found many troubling inconsistencies in this case, which linger today despite previous reviews.”
“We must dispel any questions about our County government’s handling of this incident,” he wrote. “We may or may not be able to find out the true cause of death, but I strongly believe that there is more uncertainty about the situation than is recognized by the County’s official position and that the treatment of Mr. Warren and his family has been unfair and unreasonable.”
According to Sherri Warren, no one with a medical background examined Keith’s body before it was released to a funeral home chosen by the lead detective.
In a phone interview Thursday evening, Warren said no criminal investigation or autopsy was performed since Keith’s body was taken straight to a funeral home. She said the clothes and sneakers he was wearing when he was found were not his, and that the department lost clothing and other evidence.
When Riemer contacted Warren, she said, she was brought to tears.
“It was not tears of sadness — more so tears of release that somebody in the county … now has my back,” she said.
“I was overwhelmed that he even called. … I’m so used to sending out letters and reaching out to people and people saying they’ll do ‘x, y, z’ with no follow through that it’s become a mainstay in my life.”
Warren said the police department has completed several reviews of the case, but all of the reviews have been internal.
In a phone interview Thursday afternoon, Riemer said he spoke with Police Chief Marcus Jones on Thursday about the process of changing the cause of death.
According to Riemer, Jones told him that the state’s attorney general would have a role in compelling the state medical examiner to review the cause of death.
“I think the point is it’s not necessarily ultimately within the county’s control,” he said. “But I think we should review the investigation and I think if the investigation determines that there are enough questions, I think the attorney general should take action and follow up. We’re trying to set something in motion here but recognizing that there’s a process that has to unfold.”
A Montgomery County Police Department spokeswoman acknowledged receiving Bethesda Beat’s request for comment, but did not immediately provide a response.
Warren said she hopes an independent investigation is started soon. She has been working on trying to get the cause of her brother’s death changed on his death certificate for decades.
She took up the task after their mother, the driving force of the effort, died in 2009.
“I can’t stop her work. I’m not going to stop,” she said. “Now it’s me. It’s on me.”
In a September 2020 post on Facebook, Warren wrote about a meeting she had with Jones, saying he will “let me know his decision in the near future as to whether he will reclassify [Keith’s] case.”
Warren said in an interview that she believes Keith didn’t die by suicide. She said her request has always been simple: have the cause of death on his death certificate changed.
“It’s so sad that I don’t know how my brother died, but then I have a county that isn’t working with me to figure out how he died,” she said. “It’s a lot. It really is.”
Riemer said he’s done his own digging and it seems clear that there are many unanswered questions in the case.
“I know it’s a very complex story and I certainly don’t pretend that I have all the information but … there’s enough questions that it’s worth a fresh examination,” he said. “I think it seems very likely that the way that his case was handled at the time is wrong and that Keith Warren was not treated properly. His family was not treated properly with respect, humanity and compassion.”
Riemer said that considering the cause of Keith’s death to be “unknown” would give closure to his family.
“I’m not suggesting that we’ll be able to figure out what actually happened or who might have been responsible,” he said.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at email@example.com.