The Ghost of Tyrone West: A Year in the Death

The evening of July 18, 2014 marks the one year anniversary of the beating death of Tyrone West.  On that day at 6:30, the West Family will gather at the scene where Tyrone was killed for a memorial service. There will be a prayer; words shared by the West Family and members of the community—even witnesses who have come forth as well as those who have yet to do so.

Since Tyrone’s untimely death, the West Family has waged an unyielding fight for justice. Every Wednesday, the West Family has mobilized at various locations around the city. These manifestations have become known as #WestWednesday’s, and as of today, there have been over 50, which target the various institutions involved in Tyrone’s death.

To learn more about the movement against police brutality, and how to get involved, join the Baltimore Public Safety Collective at Red Emma’s every Saturday at 2:30 pm… and keep your ears and eyes open for the next #WestWednesday.

On the evening of July 18, 2013, Tyrone West was driving a friend home when an unmarked police vehicle pulled them over for an alleged traffic violation. According to witnesses, officers immediately opened the vehicle and dragged Tyrone out by his dreadlocks, beginning to beat, mace, and taze him. In audio of the two officers calling for back-up, Tyrone’s voice can be heard in the background calling for help, a plea witnesses heard him make too.

By the end of the attack, 10+ Baltimore Police and a Morgan State University officer stood over Tyrone’s lifeless body. None of these officers involved in Tyrone’s death were suspended by the Baltimore Police Department, nor were any prosecuted by the State’s Attorney’s Office, and thus remain on active duty today. The Baltimore Police denied forcibly removing Tyrone from the vehicle. Instead, they said they had politely asked Tyrone and the passenger if they could search the vehicle, to which they allegedly consented to. It was when they attempted to search Tyrone, Police say, that he allegedly attacked the officers. The Police claim they discovered a gram of cocaine in a field Tyrone had ran across in an attempt to flee from them. However, they also said they found that gram in 14 different bags, raising questions that remain unanswered about how and why one gram of cocaine would be divided in 14 bags.

The West Family reject the version of events as told by the Baltimore Police. The West Family argue that the two officers that initially pulled Tyrone over: Nicholas David Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz, are “Violent Repeat Offendicers,” and should have already been suspended for their role in the beating of Abdul Salaam, 17 days prior to the beating death of Tyrone. Abdul, who lives only a couple blocks away, was also pulled over for an alleged traffic violation and forcibly removed from his vehicle, like Tyrone had been. The officers beat Abdul in his driveway in front of his three year old son, and then threatened to take him, because he wasn’t wearing his seat-belt. All charges were eventually dropped. A complaint was immediately filed with internal affairs, however they have yet to respond or return any of Abdul’s property.

The West Family was not able to see Tyrone’s body for over 5 days. According to the autopsy report, the Medical Examiner’s Office had completed the autopsy within 24 hours of Tyrone’s death, but it took 145 days before the State’s Attorney’s Office would release a preliminary report, which claimed that Tyrone had “died of Cardiac Arrhythmia due to Cardiac Conduction System Abnormality complicated by Dehydration during police restraint.” However, the Medical Examiner’s Office still ruled that cause of death “could not be determined.”

The West Family approached Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in person on four different occasions demanding accountability, before she finally came out on December 06, 2013 (140 days later) with a public letter addressed to State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, asking him to release the autopsy report as “expeditiously as possible.” Both, the letter by the Mayor and release of the preliminary autopsy report were on the eve of the Baltimore City Council’s Public Safety Committee hearing on December 12, 2013, which the West Family had forced after confronting Councilman Bill Henry in City Hall back in October.  However the State’s Attorney’s Office and Medical Examiner’s Office abstained from attending the hearing, and the Baltimore Police Department excused themselves after their 10 minute presentation that did not answer any questions about the case.

Six days before Christmas, on December 19, 2014, State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein finally announced that he would not prosecute any of the officers involved in the beating death of Tyrone. When the West Family attempted to attend the press conference, they were threatened with arrest (at 15:30) by Baltimore Police Detectives who guarded Bernstein’s office.

Throughout the entire investigation, the name of one of the officers involved in the case, Morgan State University officer David Lewis, was never identified. It was only until after the criminal investigation was over, and the West Family was able to obtain the FOIA file, that they discovered his identity, and that Lewis had been the officer that sat on Tyrone’s back as he took his last breath.

After discovering his name, several #WestWednesday’s were concentrated on Morgan State University, warning students about a Killer Cop on their campus. Once the West Family obtained photos of some of the officers did they learn that in fact they had come face to face with the Killer Cop while raising awareness on campus. Lewis is also the only officer that refused to participate in the criminal investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Office. The two initiating officers, Chapman and Ruiz, were not interviewed by the State’s Attorney’s Office until October 28, 2013, three months after the incident had occurred. Most of the officers involved were interviewed between October and December.

It wasn’t until the conclusion of the criminal investigation by the State’s Attorney’s Office that the Baltimore Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs began their administrative investigation. None of the officers were disciplined as a result of the administrative investigation. Baltimore Police have not made the details of the investigation available to the public.

Following the criminal and administrative investigations is what the Mayor and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts have been calling an “independent review board,” which will review the incident and make recommendations (if any) to the Police Commissioner for consideration. The members of the “independent” review board are appointed by the Baltimore Police’s Office of Internal Affairs; in previous cases, such as the in-custody killing of Anthony Anderson, members of the review board held positions in other police departments and state’s attorney’s offices around Maryland.

As of today, the “independent review board” still has not concluded their review.

The Baltimore Civilian Review Board did not play a role in any investigation in the West case because they do not have the authority to investigate deadly use of force incidents. The Baltimore Police recently announced their intention to allow them to do so in the future, however there are many other issues that continue to withhold the Civilian Review Board from possessing any meaningful power.

The West Family continues to pursue an investigation by the United States Department of Justice as they have sought since the beginning.

 

sk○lA↯tika

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