The Baltimore Sun
Posted with permission from Tribune Content Agency

BALTIMORE — Praising the prosecution of six officers in the death of Freddie Gray, the chairman of the Baltimore City Council's public safety committee wants State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby to reopen investigations into three earlier deaths in police custody.

Councilman Warren Branch said Tuesday that he's asking Mosby to review the deaths of Tyrone West, Anthony Anderson and Maurice Donald Johnson.

No charges were filed in those cases, which occurred while Mosby's predecessor was the city's chief prosecutor.

"I'm asking on behalf of the families if she would reopen these three cases and reinvestigate these three cases," Branch said before a City Hall hearing on West's death. "Many people were impressed with the actions the state's attorney took in the Freddie Gray case."

Mosby's office did not respond to requests for comment. Interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis promised transparency in misconduct cases.

"You have my word that we will move heaven and earth to get to the bottom of the circumstances that led up to that loss of life," Davis said.

Rodney Hill, the chief of the city's internal affairs division, told the council the agency is improving.

"Mr. Tyrone West did not die in vain," he said. "I assure as a result there will be changes in the Baltimore Police Department."

Branch had asked medical examiner David Fowler to attend the hearing, but he declined. The council has no legal authority to compel him to attend.

Bruce Goldfarb, a spokesman for Fowler, said he did not attend because there is pending litigation about the case. West's family has filed a civil suit against the Baltimore Police Department.

West, 44, died on July 18, 2013, during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. Police and witnesses said he fought with officers. West's family says officers beat him to death. The medical examiner's office ruled that he died because he had a heart condition that was exacerbated by the struggle with police and the summer heat.

One witness told investigators that police officers pulled West out of his car "by his dreads and started beating him and maced him, he got up and called for help and the cops knocked him over and beat him to death, then tried to bring him back."

Officers acknowledged punching West, striking him with batons and spraying him with pepper spray, but a review panel determined that officers did not use excessive force.

No officers were charged in West's death, but the review panel said police did not follow basic policies and made tactical errors that "potentially aggravated the situation."

Branch told West's sister Tuesday that he would walk with her to the state's attorney's office to ask Mosby about the case in person. Still, Tawanda Jones and other supporters said they were upset that Branch didn't provide them with an opportunity to testify in front of Davis.

"I feel good he's asking the state's attorney to open up our case, but I feel disgusted that we weren't able to speak to the new commissioner," Jones said. "He needs to know our pain. He needs to know how we were disrespected for months and years."

Jones was also upset that Fowler did not attend the hearing.

"I want to ask them, where is my brother's autopsy pictures? Where is it?" she said. "They killed the wrong man, but they got the right family. We're not going to stop. All these people are going to keep losing their jobs."

West and the other men died when Gregg L. Bernstein was state's attorney.

Bernstein's office declined to bring charges in the death of 46-year-old Anthony Anderson in September 2012.

A detective tackled Anderson in a vacant lot using a bear hug maneuver. He suffered eight broken ribs and a ruptured spleen.

Prosecutors who investigated that death said police did not use excessive force. His family has said there was no need to slam him to the ground.

An attorney for Anderson's family said the facts warrant another look.

"I do feel the case involved criminal activity," attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said.

Maurice Donald Johnson, 31, died in May 2012 after police shot him twice inside his mother's home in Belair-Edison. Johnson's mother had called officers for help transporting her bipolar son to the hospital when a struggle broke out.

Police say Johnson reached for an officer's gun. His family denies that.

An attorney for West's family said Mosby has the ability to reopen the cases.

"It would be unusual, but I don't know it would be unprecedented," attorney A. Dwight Pettit said. "It would be very justifiable to argue that the cases were reviewed in such a haphazard manner, she could reasonably argue the grand jury should have a case to review the facts."

Gray died in police custody in April. A medical examiner said he suffered a "high-energy injury" to his neck and spine — most likely caused when the police van in which he was riding suddenly decelerated.

Mosby has brought charges against six officers involved in his arrest and transport. The charges range from misconduct to second-degree murder. All six have pleaded not guilty. Trials are scheduled to begin in October.

Pettit said many might now look to Mosby to take action against police that others might not have.

"She should be allowed to act objectively without political pressure," Pettit said. "Of course I think there might be more public pressure on her, because of her seeming to be receptive to an objective review of facts, which we haven't been in the position to enjoy for many years."

Representatives of the Baltimore police union did not immediately respond to requests for comment.