Tawanda Jones and about 50 supporters, including relatives of those killed in police custody, protested Wednesday night outside the state medical examiner’s office in Baltimore, encouraged that nearly two decades’ worth of in-custody death reports will be reviewed.
Jones has been holding vigils every Wednesday since 2013, when the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that her brother, Tyrone West, 44, died because of a heart condition exacerbated by a struggle with Baltimore police amid summer heat. Officers used batons, fists and pepper spray to subdue West after he fled a traffic stop, prosecutors said at the time.
The latest of the vigils, known as West Wednesdays, came less than a week after the Maryland Attorney General’s Office said it will appoint an independent panel to review findings of the medical examiner’s office between 2003 and 2019, when it was headed by Dr. David Fowler. Emotions were strong, and Jones was joined by relatives of Korryn Gaines and Leonard Shand, who were shot and killed by police.
The demonstration was held outside of the Forensic Medical Center at 900 W. Baltimore St. Participants held signs calling for justice for West, criticizing Fowler and demanding a thorough examination by the attorney general.
Jones and supporters called it a mockery that Fowler testified for the defense in the trial of former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin. Fowler testified that George Floyd died not because Chauvin kneeled on him — as he was in a prone position — for more than nine minutes, but because of a variety of factors that weren’t the officer’s fault.
His testimony was disputed by prosecution experts and roundly criticized by medical commentators during and after the trial.
“When I saw David Fowler had to testify, I was like, are you kidding me, are you freaking kidding me?” Jones said. “We need to take it a step further. When they are killed by the police, he writes them off, it’s like writing a bad check. He writes them off completely.”
Also Wednesday, the family of Anton Black, 19, who died in 2018 after three officers in the Eastern Shore town of Greensboro sat on him for more than six minutes, asked to be part of the process for selecting the “individuals who will conduct” the review of Fowler’s cases.
Black’s family is suing the state and Fowler in federal court over his determination that the actions of the officers were not responsible for the teenager’s death.
Black’s family hand-delivered a letter to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and Michael Pedone, the governor’s chief legal counsel, asking to be a part of the process. Racquel Coombs, spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the office will “consider” the request.
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The decision to review in-custody death rulings in Maryland comes after over 400 medical professionals wrote to state officials questioning Fowler’s credibility and alleging that the office during his tenure often sided with police officers following in-custody deaths.
Fowler retired in 2019 after 17 years as chief medical examiner to go into private consulting practice.