ACLU: 109 people in Maryland died after police encounters in last four years

When Maryland did not track deaths after police encounters, the ACLU said it decided to.

At least 109 people have died after encounters with police in Maryland between 2010 and 2014, according to a study released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly 70 percent of those who died were black and more than 40 percent of the people were unarmed, according to the report. Blacks make up 29 percent of Maryland's population.

Of the 109 cases studied, the ACLU said less than 2 percent of officers involved in the deaths were criminally charged.

"We must report and track deaths in police encounters in order to learn the lessons that will prevent these tragedies from recurring," Sonia Kumar, ACLU Staff Attorney, said in a statement.

The effort to track the deaths began in 2013, when families of people killed by police came to the group for help. The ACLU found that the state did not keep complete statistics related to police shootings, in-custody deaths and other fatal interactions with law enforcement. The group said the study took on greater importance after a series of high profile deaths of unarmed black males across the nation last year, including the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which sparked months of protests across major American cities.

"The organization's research made one thing clear: Outside of the families and communities who have borne the brunt of these losses, the full extent of deaths in police encounters has never been formally acknowledged by public officials in Maryland," the ACLU said in a statement. "There is no centralized state or federal reporting requirement when people die in police encounters. There are more than 140 state and local law enforcement agencies in Maryland, but no official tracking of how frequently or under what circumstances they are involved in the loss of civilian lives."

The ACLU said that it's data came from news reports, as well as records obtained from the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The report found that 31 people died after police encounters in Baltimore City, which had the most deaths in the state; 21 died in Prince George's County; 13 died in Baltimore County; Anne Arundel and Howard counties had four deaths each.

The FBI's 2012 data on "justifiable homicides" by law enforcement — which does not include all deaths at the hands of police — lists Maryland as having the sixth highest number of homicides by police out of 39 states reporting, the ACLU said.

The ACLU said its study has shown that blacks are five times more likely to die in a police encounter than whites. Of the cases, police shootings accounted for 79 percent of the deaths.

Among the cases studied was that of Tyrone West, killed after a Baltimore police traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore on July 18, 2013. West died after police say he struggled during arrest. No officers were charged in the incident.

West's family, community leaders and activists say he was beaten to death while police cited an autopsy which showed that West died of a heart condition exacerbated by his struggle and the summer heat.

An independent panel commissioned by Baltimore police to review West's death determined that Baltimore police officers did not use excessive force but made tactical errors that "potentially aggravated the situation." The review also showed that officers did not follow police protocol.

West's sister Tawanda Jones told the ACLU that state law enforcement agencies lack transparency that families need to trust police accounts.

"All we are asking for is accountability," Jones said in a statement provided by the ACLU. "At the end of the day there are lives being taken every 24 hours and nothing's being done. We don't want this type of pain to happen to another family. That's why we do what we do. This pain never goes away. This doesn't get easier. The only thing we can do is hold police accountable. We need to put things in place to make sure nobody else goes through this. The victims of police brutality aren't here anymore to stand up for themselves."

jgeorge@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/justingeorge

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