Authorities are looking into whether the New Jersey man who died at the hospital after going on a livestreamed rant inside a police station may have had meningitis, a highly contagious infection, sources familiar with the probe say.
The Passaic medical examiner is looking into possible causes of 27-year-old Jameek Lowery's death, including whether he had bacterial meningitis, the source said. As of 9:45 a.m. Thursday, the office of Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, who himself was treated with antibiotics because of an interaction with Lowery, says it was still awaiting the autopsy results.
Meningitis, an inflamation of the thin tissue that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, can be spread through coughing, as well as mucus, tears and blood. It can get serious very quickly, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The New Jersey Department of Health would not discuss Lowery's case by name because of privacy laws, but confirmed it was investigating a suspected case of invasive bacterial meningitis and said lab tests were pending. Though bacterial meningitis is considered highly contagious, the bacteria is not as easily spread as germs that could cause the common cold or flu, health officials say.
"People do not catch them through casual contact or by breathing air where someone with meningococcal disease has been," the health department said.
At the same time, out of the utmost precaution, health officials advise anyone who was in close contact with "the suspect case" since Dec. 29, the date the person may first have become infectious, should get antibiotics.
Already, three police officers and two firefighters have started an anti-bacterial regimen because of their direct dealing with Lowery when he went to the police station, and then when he was transported to St. Joseph's Hospital, according to officials close to the investigation. Dozens of hospital personnel may have also been potentially exposed when he was there twice on Saturday.
Sayegh -- who supports an investigation into Lowery's death -- had met and posed for a picture with Lowery in a random encounter on the street several weeks ago. He was advised to go to a hospital late Wednesday to be tested for meningitis out of an abundance of caution, given his interaction with Lowery. A release from Sayegh's office Thursday said he was also treated with antibiotics -- "the standard method of care" in this situation.
It appears some of Lowery's organs had shut down, according to sources.
It's also believed Lowery had drugs in his system, and that, too, may have been a contributing factor.
Meanwhile, calls are growing for an independent investigation into how Lowery wound up bloodied, bruised and unresponsive at the hospital when he was transported from the Paterson police station, and how he died two days later.
"There is potential that Paterson police, we believe, beat this man to death, but we want to know the truth and we want to make sure this is an open and fair process," said one protester.
A doctor who saw Lowery at the hospital told investigators those bruises and swelling were consistent with advanced meningitis, sources said Wednesday. The family has also been told that reports of a broken socket date back to an injury Lowery received about a year ago, and have no connection to the way police dealt with him.
Health officials are also concerned about the 500 or so demonstrators who protested at City Hall Tuesday and Wednesday. Since Lowery's family may have been exposed to his possible meningitis, and they were at the protests, they may also be at risk and may have also exposed the demonstrators in turn.
Lowery first called 911 at around 2:45 a.m. on Saturday, saying he had taken ecstasy and was paranoid, according to a preliminary investigation by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office.
"Um, I think I, um, took too many E-pills, ecstasy pills," he said in a recording of his 911 call that was released publicly Wednesday.
"And what's going on with you?" the operator asked.
"Um, paranoid," he said.
EMS responded and took him to a local hospital, but Lowery became erratic there and left.
At around 3:40 a.m., Lowery again called 911, this time from a Wendy's restaurant near Broadway and Memorial Drive, saying people were trying to kill him, the prosecutor's office said. He walked into the Paterson Police headquarters nearby at 111 Broadway, appearing agitated.
While inside police headquarters, Lowery livestreamed to his Facebook page from inside the police station, shouting in an apparent fit of paranoia, "Please don't shoot me. This officer by the wall, I see you, they're trying to kill me. They right there!"
He ranted, at times incoherently, "I see y'all trying to kill me. Why are you trying to kill me? What'd I do, officer? ... I said I need help, I need help, go to the hospital, somebody trying to kill me. Somebody help me."
"Somebody call my mom. The cops trying to kill me, they think I'm a witness, they think I'm f---ing with the FBI. That's what they think."
"Watch out, if I'm dead by the next hour or two, they did it," he shouted in the video. "I didn't touch them at all."
When the officers assured him an ambulance was on the way, he responded, "Yo, they're gonna kill me in the ambulance."
The officers maintained their distance while Lowery recorded on his cellphone, and attempted to calm him from afar: "All right, just relax," one told him. When he told them he was dehydrated and needed water, someone is heard telling him, "The hospital has water."
EMS arrived and an ambulance transported him to the hospital, a ride that took about 5 to 12 minutes, according to police and fire records. Sometime in that ride, he lost consciousness.
"Per initial reports and information, police used physical force and compliance holds to secure Mr. Lowery in the ambulance," the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
When Lowery arrived at the hospital, he was unresponsive. Hospital records didn't indicate any acute trauma, but his parents and friends said he ended up bloodied and bruised when they saw him at the hospital. He did not have those injuries in the Facebook video.
He was pronounced dead in the early morning hours of Monday, Jan. 7.