Baltimore's police commissioner said yesterday that he would support a federal civil rights investigation into the death of a man who struggled with at least four Western District officers as they arrested him.
In an interview, commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said if community residents ask for an FBI investigation into the death of Jesse Chapman, 30, he "would support that review."
Since Mr. Chapman's death on Saturday, angry protesters have held two demonstrations outside the Western District station. They called for an independent investigation, and they want the officers removed from street duty.
Last night, about 125 protesters marched from the Western District station house to Fulton Avenue, chanting "We Shall Overcome" and carrying signs and lighted candles. "We're not going to have paid officials beating our men or boys like animals," said Chanelle Cooper, 29, who helped organize the march. "We do not condone domestic violence, but we will not tolerate police brutality."
On Tuesday, Mr. Frazier said preliminary autopsy results show that Mr. Chapman's body had no evidence of blunt-force trauma, and therefore did not die at the hands of police.
Yesterday, the commissioner reasserted that the officers were not responsible for Mr. Chapman's death, but said "another possibility is that there may have been some use of excessive force."
Mr. Frazier also said that the state's attorney's office plans to interview witnesses next week "to decide whether or not to convene a grand jury" in the case.
Mr. Frazier voiced support for a federal review after a telephone conversation with U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a 7th District Democrat and head of the Congressional Black Caucus. The congressman said he called the commissioner after meeting with two witnesses and several area clergymen yesterday morning.
Mr. Mfume said he told the commissioner that the officers should be reassigned pending the outcome of a departmental investigation.
"I think it is a prudent and a responsible thing to do," the congressman said. "It depressurizes a potentially volatile situation."
Mr. Chapman of the 1300 block of N. Fulton Ave. was pronounced dead at 11:57 p.m. Saturday in the back of a police wagon at the Western District station, in the 1000 block of N. Mount St.
Officers had arrested Mr. Chapman after a struggle in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave., after he followed his girlfriend, Selma Battle, 29, into the Western District station, cursed her and tried to punch her, police said.
Officers chased Mr. Chapman from the station to a rowhouse around the corner in front of 1141 N. Fulton Ave., police said. Five people who say they saw the arrest contended in interviews with The Sun that officers beat Mr. Chapman while he lay face down on the sidewalk.