The FBI is investigating how a Southwest Baltimore man ended up in a coma after he was arrested by city police officers last month -- the second time in as many months the federal government has begun a probe into alleged police brutality here.
The case involves George T. Hite, 31, who was arrested June 19 in the 200 block of S. Fulton Ave. on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. Police said he was drinking a beer on his front stoop when he yelled at officers who were searching a drug suspect nearby.
Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said witnesses have told the department's homicide investigators that the arresting officers intentionally tripped Mr. Hite after putting on handcuffs, causing the man to fall and hit his head on the pavement. The officers maintain that Mr. Hite slipped and fell as they were trying to handcuff him, the spokesman said.
Special Agent Andrew Manning, a spokesman with the FBI's Baltimore office, confirmed yesterday that his office and an assistant U.S. attorney started a probe on June 28. But he would not comment further.
Edward W. Hite Sr., of Ashland, Va., said his brother has been in a coma since his arrest, and family members expect him to die. Two weeks ago, the injured man was moved to the Greenery Extended Care Center in Baltimore from the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he had been taken after the arrest.
"He has no ability as a human being as we know it," Edward Hite said.
The FBI also is investigating how Jesse Chapman, 30, ended up dead in the back of a police van after his arrest in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave. That probe began July 9, after three days of protests in front of the Western District police station and a call for action by U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat.
Witnesses have said officers beat Mr. Chapman July 2, before tossing him into the back of the van. But preliminary autopsy reports do not show Mr. Chapman died of blunt force trauma, according to city police.
The state medical examiner's office completed an autopsy last week, but officials have refused to release the report or the cause of death. They say the report has been sent to the state's attorney's office and can't be made public until the prosecutor's probe is complete.
"It shouldn't be too long," said state Medical Examiner Dr. John E. Smialek, who argued that releasing any information on the autopsy could impede the prosecutor's investigation.
Last night, witnesses met with prosecutors at the Harlem Park Community Center in West Baltimore. That meeting was scheduled after five witnesses refused to meet with an assistant state's attorney last week, saying they didn't trust authorities.
The city's chief prosecutor, State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, declined to talk about the meeting, or even to say how long it lasted.
"It proceeded as we had expected. The matter is still under investigation," was all he would say about it.
Lawyers representing the police union have criticized the meeting, charging that the witnesses' statements would be tainted because they wanted to meet as a group. Whether the witnesses met as group last night could not be determined.
But in a statement last week, Mr. Simms said, "I do not think that a meeting of the community in a neutral site prevents a fair examination of the facts in this matter."
Although the Hite and Chapman cases are unrelated, both families met privately last week with the mayor, the police commissioner and the state's attorney.
Edward Hite said yesterday that he requested the FBI investigation. He said that at last week's meeting in West Baltimore, he complained that the city police investigation was taking too long and wondered why the two officers involved in his brother's arrest were not pulled from duty, as had happened in Mr. Chapman's case.
"Not really a lot came out of that meeting," he said, "except the usual political jargon: We have problems, we're investigating, we'll get back to you."
Mr. Ringgold said yesterday that officers Jae Yim, 25, and Stanley Reaves, 22, were assigned to administrative duties on June 23, pending the outcome of the department's investigation into the Hite case. The commissioner was unaware of the move when he met with the Hite and Chapman families last week, he added. The spokesman said department regulations may be changed to make it routine for officers to be assigned to administrative duty whenever someone dies in police custody, the same action taken when an officer is involved in a shooting.