The most audible sounds above the traffic noise were sobs and shouts from the family and friends of Tyrone West, 44, who died of unknown causes on July 18 during an altercation with police officers.
Mourners gathered on the corner of Kitmore and Kelway roads on July 23 for a candle light vigil to pay their respects to West and urge neighbors to come forward in what witnesses and community organizers are calling a case of police brutality.
Before the vigil began, an ambulance was called for one of West’s aunts who fainted after becoming overcome with grief.
Tyrone West Jr., son of West, said his father was a good and kind-hearted person.
“He wasn’t a messed up person,” said West’s son. “It didn’t take eight people… you don’t treat a person like an animal no matter what they do.”
West’s daughter, Shay West, said her father did not get a chance to see her 14 day-old newborn grandson, who was also at the vigil.
Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said police officers stopped West and another passenger for a traffic violation. He said as police were searching the car for drugs a struggle began between West and the officers.
Rodriguez said officers requested back up. Baltimore police and Morgan State officers arrested West when we went into a “medical distress” said Rodriguez. He said officers attempted to revive West and he was later pronounced dead at a local area hospital.
Eight Baltimore police—Nicholas David Chapman, Matthew Rea Cioffi, Alex Ryan Hashagen, Eric Maurice Hinton, Danielle Angela Lewis, Derrick Dewayne Beasley and Latreese Nicole Lee—and a Morgan State officer were involved in the incident. All of the Baltimore police officers are still on active duty. A Morgan spokesperson declined to comment on the matter, saying it “is an ongoing investigation.”
“I can’t explain how hurt my family is,” said Towanda Jones, West’s sister. “He was a god-fearing man. I don’t know who I am going to go to church with now. He usually beat me to church.”
Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, an advocate for victims of police brutality and excessive force issues in Baltimore, said the death of West is an example of what he calls “police terrorism.”
Witherspoon said neighbors near the death scene have complained about intimidation by police officers standing on corners in the area since West’s death. One witness, Chuma Obineme, 22, who recently moved into the area said he has never seen police officers patrolling in their neighborhood before the incident. At least eight uniformed Baltimore police officers stood on corners near the vigil.
Obineme said he was walking in the alley behind his home when he heard a man screaming for help.
“I thought someone was beating the guy up so I thought I should say something,” said Obineme. “I saw batons shoot up in the air and three officers were punching and kicking him.”
He said more officers arrived and they beat West for at least two minutes. “You couldn’t see him at all; he disappeared into a sea of dark blue.”
Witherspoon said there is a double standard for police officers in Baltimore. He said they do not get convicted and he is sick of the “George Zimmerman-style” non-prosecution of police officers.
“We demand charges are applied to these officers,” said Witherspoon. “We are sick of officers taking the law into their own hands.”
Witherspoon was also at the forefront of another police custody death. Witherspoon sought charges against police officers in the death of Anthony Anderson, 47, who died after being thrown to the ground following a drug bust.
A. Dwight Petit, attorney for the West family, said it is “open season” in Baltimore.
“Officers believe there is no price to pay for beating Black men,” said Petit. “Commissioner Batts said ‘It’s a new day.’ Well let’s see it.”
Petit said Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein is not pursuing criminal or civil prosecutions against Baltimore police involved crimes and killings. “It’s time for citizens to demand he do the right thing… the police can’t police themselves.”
At the vigil, Witherspoon said he will be adding allegations against police in the death of Tyrone West to a $20 million civil suit. The suit says Baltimore police policies foster over-zealous conduct by patrol officers, often leading to unwarranted violence, and injuries, mostly at the hands of African Americans.
“We are asking people of the city to keep the family in prayer and to come and stand in solidarity,” said Witherspoon. “Today this family is victimized; tomorrow our families could be victimized by police terrorism.”
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