In the four months since Tyrone West was pronounced dead following what Baltimore police say started as a routine traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore, there have been more questions than answers about the death of the 44-year-old man while in police custody.
At the core is a central question: How did West die? Although an autopsy has been completed and nine police officers have been suspended while the death is investigated, the police and medical examiner remain silent about the cause of death.
Now, several Baltimore City Council members have joined West’s family and friends in the search for truth. On Nov. 18, 123 days after West died during a violent scuffle with police, council members Bill Henry and Warren Branch successfully steered the council into the matter.
“The prolonged silence is frustrating and unacceptable,” according to the resolution that cleared the council. In language that labeled the incident “disturbing,” the resolution said the official silence about the incident “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."
“Really everybody is waiting on the medical examiner,” Henry told the AFRO. He said the action –which includes a council hearing scheduled for Dec. 11 is the council’s way of “calling on the police department and the office of the chief medical examiner to explain the reason behind the abnormally long time being taken to determine the cause of Tyrone West’s death while in police custody on July 18.”
In a July interview with the AFRO, city police said, the car West and another man were riding in was stopped for a traffic violation. Police searched West’s car for drugs and a struggle began between him and the officers—but witnesses said police brutally beat West and he was pronounced dead later that night.
Eight BPD officers and a Morgan State University police officer connected with the incident have been suspended while the traffic stop and subsequent actions are investigated.
“I am hoping the city council joining us will help out with the investigation,” Towanda West, West’s sister said before the council acted. “We are waiting for answers and seeking justice for my brother. We have been reaching out to everybody, it’s been 123 days.”
Just before the council action Nov. 18, nearly 20 members of the West family convened outside city hall to press for action.
She said her brother was unarmed. “No one would help my brother, we still don’t know why my brother was pulled over. We only know what they told us.
“I feel it’s a cover up, and they need to come out with the truth—The Baltimore police, it doesn’t take this long to come up with the autopsy report, I mean, come on,” she said.
“We just know he was brutally murdered,” she said.
According to West, she said, when the family confronted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake about her brother’s death, the mayor said she didn’t know anything about the incident.
According to the Office of the Medical Examiner, the death is still under investigation.
“The case and manner of death have not been determined,” Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for the state medical examiner told the AFRO.
Goldfarb told the AFRO he couldn’t discuss anything else because “it would be against state law.”
With this resolution, Henry said he wants to inform the city council of the current status of the investigation into this incident and he isn’t alone.
Councilman Warren Branch is co-sponsoring Henry’s initiative.
“We need transparency and the family shouldn’t be left hanging trying to figure out what went wrong or what happened,” Henry said. “When things take this long—or agencies aren’t communicating with people—they begin to think that something is broke down in the system and that’s not fair to neither us or the family.”
According to city officials, the investigation can’t go any further until the police department has an autopsy and their investigation isn’t concluded because they are waiting on an official cause of death.
“I want to know why that hasn’t been done yet,” said Henry. “What is taking so long?”
The national standard to complete an autopsy is 90 days, Henry said.
“123 days later and there is no autopsy,” he said. “It’s been substantially longer than 90-days, longer than an autopsy should take.”
Henry said everybody has their own idea, speculation and suspicions as to what is going on, but it is somebody’s job to clear away all the uncertainties and present some facts.
“I hope to get the family the answers they deserve,” he said. They’ve been living with no closure for going on half a year now. That is a long time to not know why your nephew or brother or your cousin died. Its tragic enough when someone that you love is taken from you, but when you don’t even know why or how it happened that just adds a different dimension to the grief.”