The man who died in police custody Thursday night during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore was identified as a 44-year-old who was on parole and was once sentenced to two years in prison for resisting arrest.
Police said Tyrone West suffered "medical distress" after fighting with officers who were searching him following a traffic stop in the 1300 block of Kitmore Road. The cause of death is unclear, and the results of an autopsy were pending.
Witnesses told reporters that they saw West beaten and sprayed with pepper spray and believed he was not fighting with officers.
City Councilman Bill Henry said he was told by police that West was driving with a woman when officers stopped the car and asked the two to sit on the curb. According to police, the officers noticed a bulge in West's pocket and suspected drugs, but he punched an officer and ran, Henry said.
"It was essentially a wide-ranging fight across several yards," Henry said he was told by police. He said officers tried to pepper spray the suspect, but it "actually blew back and affected them as much, if not more."
Henry said police told him that the officers tried to subdue the man, "and in the course of struggling, he just collapsed."
"What I'm hearing is that this was not a beating, it was justifiable force while trying to subdue a suspect who was actively resisting arrest and assaulting the officers," Henry said.
Police have not said whether they found drugs in their search.
West's death is the second in Baltimore police custody since last fall, when Anthony Anderson, 47, 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.
West's uncle, Ernest Anderson, 61, said he had learned of his nephew's death on the television news and didn't know what to think.
"If he didn't have no drugs, then that altercation shouldn't have happened," Anderson said. "But he's dead now. What can you do? You have to see how it plays out."
The Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, who sought charges against the officers involved in the arrest that led to Anthony Anderson's death, said he was canvassing the New Northwood neighborhood where West died.
West was released from prison last summer after serving time for a 2000 drug distribution conviction. About the same time, he was convicted of second-degree assault and sentenced to 15 years in a case in which he was found not guilty of attempted first-degree murder. In 2000, West was sentenced to two years for resisting arrest. Prosecutors dropped another attempted murder and handgun case in 1999.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun