The most difficult day for Roma Snowball-Presley in the year since her son died after an encounter with Tulsa police officers inside a downtown bank last year was not the anniversary of the event itself.
The emotional anguish didn’t just come from a place of a parent who lost her child. The hurt only compounded with the realization that Joshua Harvey — only 25 when he died confined to a hospital bed inside St. John Medical Center — would have been celebrating his 26th birthday last month if he lived.
“I would say two days before the anniversary,” Snowball-Presley said last month in describing how she felt. “I was also trying to get myself prepared for his birthday coming up. It was kind of rough.”
Gaining closure has also been difficult nearly 13 full months later, too. The Haskell native has yet to find it after an Oklahoma Medical Examiner’s Office autopsy report determined Harvey’s probable cause of death on Aug. 26, 2018, was due to a cardiovascular condition exacerbated by drug use and exertion.
Snowball-Presley remains convinced that Harvey died as a result of excessive force used by officers who encountered him at the Arvest Bank at 502 S. Main St.
“I believe that it was homicide by officers due to excessive force,” she told the Tulsa World.
Body-camera footage released by the Police Department after the incident showed Harvey breaking a glass door and entering the bank minutes after first engaging with officers in the 100 block of East Sixth Street.
The video then shows the officers use multiple rounds of electricity from stun guns on him. He eventually lost consciousness and was hospitalized. He died three days later without having regained consciousness.
A use-of-force report released by the Tulsa Police Department last September revealed two officers involved in the incident collectively triggered their Tasers at Harvey about 25 times during a three-minute period.
The family has since demanded criminal charges be pursued on the assertion that the officers violated the department’s use-of-force policy. Damario Solomon-Simmons, an attorney representing the family, has since filed a tort claim related to Harvey’s death. Harvey’s estate, Solomon-Simmons said, has had little contact with TPD since the incident.
Snowball-Presley believes TPD has treated the incident “like it never happened.”
“We’re just waiting for that process to move forward, and I’m looking at other options,” he said. “We were hoping that there will be some criminal charges. We’ve been trying to wait on that process because we didn’t want to make it seem like we were trying to influence that. We just wanted them (the Tulsa Police Department) to do their due diligence and say, ‘This is not the way that officers should handle individuals in Tulsa.’ ”
Tulsa Police Department officials declined to comment on the status of its investigation, citing possible litigation regarding the case.
With little fanfare, Snowball-Presley, along with community leaders and state Rep. Regina Goodwin, participated in the Justice 4 Joshua peace walk on Aug. 29 on what would have been Harvey’s birthday to bring awareness to the incident and keep his memory alive.
“I wanted the public to understand that people need to be more aware of what’s going on and we need to come together as one unit and work on these changes that we need to do for policy, for the mental health, for the substance abuse, for anybody,” Snowball-Presley said. “Just like Terence Crutcher, you know, you can’t just do people like that and just keep going. We got to have some type of peace in this community. We’re trying to bring awareness to the community about what’s going on.”
One part of Snowball-Presley’s fight is to push for police reform and policy changes within TPD. Another is to highlight issues involving mental health and substance abuse, which she hopes to accomplish through Joshua W. Harvey Outreach Inc. and the Joshua Harvey Foundation.
Prior to his death, Harvey had suffered from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. His family believes if police were made aware of his condition, or were better trained to identify and handle individuals undergoing a mental health crisis, that Harvey would not have been harmed.
“I want to prevent this from happening again to somebody else,” she said. “We need to change policies and they (police) need to be held accountable for their actions. I don’t care who you are, how long you’ve been on the force. If you do something that causes someone to lose their life, you need to be prosecuted for it.”
For now, all that Snowball-Presley can do is reminisce about her son. The once promising high school football star who had made a name for himself in Haskell. The young man who was growing into the role of father. And the person who was undergoing mental health treatment while making sincere efforts to overcome personal setbacks.
Even in the midst of anguish and unanswered questions about her son’s death, Snowball-Presley says she will continue to fight for her son regardless of how long it takes.
“I will never (stop),” she said. “I will keep going and trying to get justice until everything has changed.”