Police initially said it was believed that he died from asphyxiation after choking on drugs, but activists, including the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, said they conducted a "community investigation" and began disputing the account.

The next Monday morning — three days later — police revised their earlier comments that Anderson had choked on drugs, saying it was not supported by early autopsy results.

"It was thought that he died from an airway obstruction after ingesting drugs. He did not die of an airway obstruction; however, he did ingest suspected narcotics," said the Police Department's chief spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi. He stressed that police were not disputing the medical examiner's finding that an injury was the cause of death.

The officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative duties while the investigation continues, and the Police Department declined to identify them, citing concerns for their safety. Had Anderson died in a shooting, however, the officers would have been identified after 48 hours, under agency policy.

The agency's new commissioner, Anthony Batts, visited the Anderson family last week but was not available for comment Tuesday.

The family accused the police Tuesday of attempting a "cover-up," which Gordon called "astonishing." Witherspoon said the officers were getting a "paid vacation at the expense of taxpayers."

"We've got to create a new precedent in Baltimore, in terms of officers committing crimes against citizens," Witherspoon said, in calling for charges. "If that happens, it will send a clear and distinctive message to the citizens and other officers that there is a standard to uphold."

The case has not been referred to the state's attorney's office.

Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, said prosecutors will "independently determine which criminal charges, if any, are warranted" but declined to comment further, citing the open investigation.

Glenn F. Ivey, a Washington-based attorney and former Prince George's County state's attorney, said he saw similar cases there. Generally, he said, witness statements, 911 calls, and autopsy are all taken into consideration.

"The question would be whether the homicide was caused by appropriate force, excessive force, or it could have been by trauma that was caused by something unrelated to the police conduct entirely," Ivey said. "I think that is what is going to have to be sorted out."

Family members have said Anderson had battled drug addiction. Court records show he had a long criminal record, including a four-year sentence in 2009 for drug-related charges and a five-year sentence in 2000 for robbery.

Family members say that's all irrelevant to what happened on the night he died.

"We do not have a problem with the Baltimore City Police Department," said Harvey, Anderson's sister. "We have a problem with officers who think they're above the law."

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.


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