A new docuseries reexamines the case of a 19-year-old man whose 1986 death was ruled a suicide shortly after he was found hanging from a tree in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Questions about how Keith Warren’s case was handled are raised in the three-part series “Uprooted.”
“It means the world,” said his sister, Sherri Warren. “I mean it means I’m not out here by myself anymore. Sometimes you feel lonely in this fight, and I have a whole team, now.”
She and her mother never believed Warren committed suicide. They say there was no autopsy and evidence was lost or destroyed.
Their mom fought for justice until the day she died.
“All she wanted was for her voice to be heard,” Sherri Warren said. “All she wanted was for someone to listen to her. All she wanted was someone to acknowledge the fact that there was something wrong here."
“Uprooted” director Avril Speaks will be at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring Wednesday evening for a public screening of part one and a panel discussion about the series. She says the case has many questions and red flags.
“A Black 19-year-old in a white suburb hanging from a tree and rule it a suicide — that makes no sense to me,” Speaks said.
Police and prosecutors say the death has been investigated many times over the years, but unless there is new evidence, there is nothing more they can do.
Sherri Warren said she wants her brother’s death to be reclassified as either undetermined or a homicide.
Speaks said George Floyd’s murder put a renewed spotlight on the push for justice and truth.
“This particular story fits right in line with that in terms of, you know, police accountability and how they’re treating particularly Black families and Black citizens and Black death,” she said.
Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer supports a new investigation.
“It is, unfortunately, a vivid example of a justice system that doesn’t work for everyone, and I think it should inspire us to continue to press for change,” he said.
Warren says she’s doing this not just for her mother and brother, but for other families going through the same painful journey.
“Just keep persevering, because the system wants to deflate you,” she said. “It wants to make you go away. Don’t go away. Don’t give them what they want. Keep fighting.”
Speaks says the series should give people hope to keep fighting systemic injustice and makes the point that Keith Warren’s life mattered.
Wednesday’s screening at 6:30 p.m. is free to the public. Tickets can be reserved via AFI Silver’s website.
Police issued this statement regarding the documentary:
“The Montgomery County Police Department has been saddened by the death of Keith Warren for over 36 years and it will always be a tragedy. This case has been authorized by previous Montgomery County Police chiefs for review several times with different entities over this period (36 years) to include different investigators, medical experts and a Montgomery County grand jury to review the case. The final official determination regarding the cause and manner of death is made by the State of Maryland’s Medical Examiner’s Office and not the Montgomery County Police Department. The suicide ruling was made, and Maryland law requires a court order to change this ruling. Attempts have been made to obtain court orders, and the judicial branch has denied such orders. No new evidence has been introduced in recent years, and the Medical Examiner’s Office has declined to reopen the investigation.”