Council members want answers on police custody death

Council members want answers on police custody death
Family members of Tyrone West attend a rally, protesting his death at the hands of police. (Justin Fenton/Baltimore Sun)

Members of the Baltimore City Council are joining the family of a man who died in police custody in their quest for answers, calling four months of official silence about how Tyrone West died "frustrating and unacceptable."

Police said in August that West, 44, went into "medical distress" after fighting with officers during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. Witnesses say West was beaten by the officers, who have been suspended.


But an autopsy by the state medical examiner's office remains incomplete 120 days later, which police say is stalling their efforts to complete an investigation. David Fowler, the chief medical examiner, has declined repeated requests for insight into the delay.

Councilmen Bill Henry and Warren Branch have drafted a resolution, which they plan to introduce Monday, that calls on the medical examiner as well as the Police Department to provide information to lawmakers about the "abnormally long time being taken" to resolve the investigation.

"The prolonged silence is frustrating and unacceptable," the nonbinding resolution says, calling the incident "disturbing." "It leaves everyone involved — Mr. West's family, the suspended officers, and the affected communities — stuck in limbo with no idea what may happen next and no way to move forward."

The resolution goes on to say that the "continued delay in discussing the case also inevitably raises questions about the integrity of the investigation in communities scarred by past police abuses and undermines the public's trust in the Police Department."

George Peoples, West's uncle, said in an interview that the resolution is a "positive step."

West's family and supporters have been relentlessly protesting and confronting public officials about the case. They've attended police events, flooded radio talk-show lines, protested outside public buildings and lobbed questions at Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Activists have documented many of the family's efforts and posted them on YouTube.

"Our family has resolved to stay on the battlefield," Peoples said.

This week they met with Henry, Branch and Councilman Nick Mosby. Despite the family's activism and media coverage, Branch, who is the chair of the council's public safety committee, said he had not previously heard of the case but wanted to help the family.

"No one has talked to you. So what we've done, we're bringing them to you," Branch told the family at a meeting this week that was filmed and posted online. "They can't escape us."

In an interview, Branch said the family and public deserve to know whether police caused West's death.

A spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said Young is aware of the case and "definitely concerned" about the pace of the investigation but is waiting for the results.

Kevin Harris, a spokesman for Rawlings-Blake, said the mayor "admires the family's resilience in seeking answers" but that the case is ongoing. "As soon as those details become available, the mayor will encourage that they be released to the family and the public as soon as possible," he said.

Experts on autopsies say that 90 percent of cases are completed within 90 days. But they also said officials could head off concerns by sharing some information with the family and public.

In late August, medical examiner's spokesman Bruce Goldfarb said the office brought in an outside cardiac pathologist, but he has declined to give updates since then.


The council cannot compel Fowler, a state official appointed by the state Postmortem Examiners Commission, to appear. But Branch said he is reaching out to state representatives to encourage Fowler to speak with them.

Goldfarb said Friday that the office had not seen the resolution and could not comment, while police declined to discuss the measure.