State reaches settlement in Tyrone West death lawsuit. (WJZ)
Baltimore officials said Wednesday they plan to pay the family of Tyrone West $600,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit alleging police misconduct and excessive force. The announcement came as state officials approved paying $400,000 to settle their share of the suit.
The combined $1 million is to settle a suit filed after West died in 2013 during an altercation with police during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore.
The family's attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said the money would go to West's three children — Nashay West, Tyrone West Jr. and a minor child — and lawyers' fees.
Interim Baltimore Solicitor David Ralph said the city had been fighting the lawsuit in federal court, winning some motions but losing others.
"We consider the facts and the evidence we think we can prove," Ralph said. "We considered the risk to the city and the family's interest. Both parties decided it was the reasonable and wise thing to do given the uncertainties of cases. … This is the family's idea of what justice means to them."
Ralph said he intended to bring the proposed $600,000 settlement to the city's Board of Estimates in August. The spending panel is controlled by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who on Wednesday expressed sympathy for West's family.
"I don't think any amount of money can replace anyone. I don't think there's any kind of solace in any settlement," she said.
Meanwhile, the state's Board of Public Works approved the state portion of the settlement at its meeting Wednesday. The panel includes the governor, who was represented Wednesday by Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp.
West, 44, died on July 18, 2013, during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. Police and witnesses said he fought with officers. West's family says officers beat him to death. The medical examiner's office ruled that he died because he had a heart condition that was exacerbated by the struggle with police and the summer heat.
When national media descended on Baltimore after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, West's case was featured in many news reports.
Gray's family settled for $6.4 million after his death from injuries sustained in the back of a police van.
West's family and supporters, including his sister Tawanda Jones, have held weekly vigils — dubbed "West Wednesdays" — for 208 straight weeks since his death in an effort to raise awareness about the case.
Pettit said Jones has been removed from the case to avoid jeopardizing the payment to West’s children. Plaintiffs in city settlements are often prohibited from disparaging the city as part of the agreements.
“We didn’t want to run afoul of that,” Pettit said.
Jones held a press conference Wednesday evening and said she rejected being part of the settlement because she refuses to be silenced by entering into a non-disparagement agreement.
“They will not tell me what I can and cannot say, and I do not want to jeopardize his children’s settlement,” she said. “I will never, ever settle for anything. I’m on the right side of justice.”
Then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts ordered an independent review of West’s treatment. The review panel concluded in August 2014 that the officers involved did not use excessive force but made tactical errors that “potentially aggravated the situation” and did not follow basic policies.
One witness told investigators that police officers pulled West out of his car “by his dreads and started beating him and maced him, he got up and called for help and the cops knocked him over and beat him to death, then tried to bring him back.”
Officers acknowledged punching West, striking him with batons and spraying him with pepper spray, but denied any wrongdoing.
No officers were charged in West's death. Gregg L. Bernstein, Baltimore's state's attorney at the time, said the officers had used "objectively reasonable force."
The case played a role in Marilyn J. Mosby's successful challenge to Bernstein in the 2014 Democratic primary. Mosby criticized the way Bernstein handled the case for a lack of "transparency," but declined to reopen it after she was elected state's attorney.
An autopsy review commissioned by West's family came to the conclusion that he died of "positional asphyxiation" while being restrained. Dr. Adel Shaker, a former medical examiner in Alabama and Mississippi, said that West "was not able to breathe during restraint process when he was held down by police officers sitting on him." The civil lawsuit, filed in June 2014, was slated to go to trial earlier this month, but was pushed back to the fall.