A 35-year-old man who was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving early yesterday in Northeast Baltimore died shortly after he was forcibly restrained and handcuffed by city police officers.
Baltimore police said Keith Leverett, a car dealer who lives in Laurel, passed out in the back of a police van and died later at Good Samaritan Hospital. A cause of death has not been determined.
Homicide detectives are investigating the incident, which is routine when someone dies in police custody. Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a department spokesman, said a preliminary investigation shows "nothing that would indicate improper actions by the officers."
Leverett was the husband of Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Michelle Leverett, who was visiting relatives in Mississippi when the incident occurred.
Mrs. Leverett said last night that she is satisfied with the way police handled the incident. "I don't feel that the police did anything wrong," she said. "It is a personal matter."
Weinhold said authorities found no obvious injuries to Leverett before or after he died.
The incident began about 12: 30 a.m. when Leverett ran into New Haven Lounge in the 1500 block of Havenwood Road in Northwood Shopping Center.
"He hollered, 'Help, I just wrecked my car. Call the police,' " said Keith Covington, a bartender and part owner. "I grabbed him by the arm and told him to calm down. He ran behind the bar, grabbed the phone from me and told the 911 operator: 'Help me, I just wrecked my car. I ran over a curb. My wife and my children are all in the car. Everybody is hurt.' "
Covington said he and two customers ran outside to see what happened. He said they found Leverett's 1998 BMW in the lot with its front end dented, driver-side air bag exploded and three flat tires. "There was no wife, no children," Covington said.
Police arrived and everyone went back into the bar. Covington said Leverett had gone out the back and was in an alley standing against a wall screaming for help.
Leverett went back into the bar, where several police officers got him to the ground and handcuffed him behind his back. "From what I saw, he wasn't really fighting," Covington said. "He was agitated and hyped."
Weinhold said police responded initially for a report of an accident. He said Northeastern District Officer Ivan Bell pulled up and found the BMW abandoned in the middle of the parking lot.
Bell and other backup officers, whose names were not available last night, went into the bar and confronted Leverett. "The driver displayed signs of possible alcohol or drug intoxication," Weinhold said.
The spokesman said the officers told investigators they used force while cuffing Leverett. "While being arrested, the suspect apparently struggled with the officers," Weinhold said. "The officers were able to restrain the individual and handcuff him."
Leverett was taken out and put in the back of a police transport van. Weinhold said officers made a routine check of the suspect and "found him to be unresponsive."
The officers administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation and called an ambulance. Leverett was taken to Good Samaritan, where Weinhold said he was pronounced dead at 1: 45 a.m.
Pub Date: 12/31/98