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Family of man who died in police custody demand answers

Justice SystemHomicideBill HenryUniversity of BaltimoreMorgan State University

The family of a 44-year-old man who died after a struggle with police during a traffic stop Thursday in Northeast Baltimore called the incident a "microcosm of greater issues within Baltimore City."

Meanwhile, another witness came forward saying officers used excessive force while striking the man.

Police identified the man Friday as Tyrone Antonio West but have released few details from their investigation other than to say West went into "medical distress" while resisting an arrest in the 1400 block of Kitmore Road. Witnesses have claimed that West was beaten, though a cause of death has not been released.

More than 20 members of West's family called reporters to their Northwest Baltimore home Saturday, saying they have hired an attorney and are trying to reconstruct what happened that night and asked people to come forward.

Neil Norris, West's cousin, said that whatever happened was "not an isolated incident."

"There's a stark disconnect between the community servants and the communities in which they're tasked to serve," said Norris, 37, reading from a statement on his cellphone. "Our communities depend on the mantra, 'To protect and to serve,' but we're unprotected and grossly underserved."

The family declined to answer questions.

On Saturday, police identified eight officers under investigation in connection with the incident, all who police said remain on full duty: Officer Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz, a two-year veteran; Officer Nicholas Chapman, a three-year veteran; Officer Matthew Cioffi, a two-year veteran; Officer Alex Hashagen, a two-year veteran; Officer Eric Hinton, a nine-year veteran; Officer Danielle Lewis, who joined the agency last fall; Officer Derrick Beasley, a four-year veteran; and Officer Latreese Lee, a five-year veteran. A Morgan State University officer is also being investigated.

Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who oversees the Police Department's professional standards and accountability bureau, declined to comment through a spokesman.

Two witnesses said Thursday night that they saw West beaten and sprayed with pepper spray and believed he was not fighting with officers. Shawanda Wilson, who lives nearby, said it was "really bad, to the point where I got upset."

On Saturday, Duane Bond Jr., a rising sophomore at University of Baltimore who is a class representative, contacted The Sun and said West had tried to run but was thrown into a parked car and beaten by the officers. Bond, who said he does not know West or his family, was at a relative's house and had gone outside when he heard women screaming.

Bond said he "vividly remembers" one of the officers "cocking his arm all the way back, and laying a haymaker on the man."

"At this point, he was already definitely down, and I didn't see any movement," Bond said. "If the man was fighting them, they have a right to fight back, but they're not above the law. You can't go beyond what's necessary."

West was on parole, having been released from prison in the summer of 2012 after serving time on convictions on separate drug distribution and assault cases in 2000. West had been charged with attempted first-degree murder in the assault case, and prosecutors dropped a second attempted-murder and handgun case in 1999. He was also sentenced to two years for resisting arrest.

Though police have publicly provided little information, City Councilman Bill Henry said Friday that officials told him officers had pulled over West and a female companion. When they had him get out of the car and sit on the curb, they noticed a bulge in West's sock and suspected drugs. West then punched an officer and ran, Henry said he was told.

"It was essentially a wide-ranging fight across several yards," Henry said he was told by police. Henry said police told him that the officers tried to bring the man under control, "and in the course of struggling, he just collapsed."

West's death is the second in Baltimore police custody since last fall, when Anthony Anderson, 46, died after being thrown to the ground during a drug arrest. While the medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, prosecutors said police had followed procedures.

jfenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Justice SystemHomicideBill HenryUniversity of BaltimoreMorgan State University
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