Review of Md. police custody death reveals flaws


BALTIMORE (AP) — A new report clears Baltimore Police officers of using excessive force in the death of Tyrone West last year in police custody, but it harshly criticizes the department's internal investigation and notes dozens of instances in which protocol was skirted or broken.

The report, released Friday by an independent panel recruited to review the case, says West died from a heart condition compounded by dehydration and extreme summer temperatures. At the time of his death on July 18, 2013, West was in handcuffs. He had struggled with officers for roughly four minutes after he was pulled over in West Baltimore.

West was pulled over for backing down the street into an intersection, according to the report. After the officers asked West to get out of the car and sit on the curb, they noticed a bulge in his sock they suspected was drugs. A bag recovered at the scene turned out to contain cocaine.

An autopsy revealed no serious injuries or signs of asphyxia.

While the report ruled the officers did not use force "beyond that which was necessary," it criticized department's handling of the investigation into the incident and determined that the officers "made several tactical errors that may have extended the length of the physical encounter, compromised officer safety, and potentially aggravated the situation."

The review board noted that the Baltimore Police homicide unit's investigation "did not meet professional best practices for objectivity and thoroughness," pointing directly to instances of "gaps in the evidence chain" and a poor canvass of the crime scene.

The report also called the department's communication with West's family following his death "insufficient and not transparent," and recommended the department develop protocols for informing the public, as well as victims' families, of findings.

"BPD communications with Mr. West's family and the larger community were not well coordinated and did not respond in a reasonable time to numerous questions surrounding the incident," the report read.

The report includes 34 recommendations, such as increased training for officers and more careful investigations into use-of-force incidents.

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said many of the problems identified in the report have been remedied since West's death.

"We didn't wait around for this report to come out," Batts said. "We've been making movements in the last two years to make our organization a better organization."

Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said the department has installed cameras and audio equipment in all interview rooms, created a unit to investigate use of force incidents and now requires officers to have at least two years of experience before deploying them into special units.

The West family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Batts and the officers involved in West's death in June.

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