The family of Tyrone West who died in police custody demanded the Maryland medical examiner release all autopsy results after their investigator concluded he died from asphyxiation
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TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. I’m standing outside the Maryland Medical Examiner’s office, a key player in the controversy surrounding Tyrone West’s death in police custody in 2013. Today his sister Tawanda Jones held a press conference to reveal new information about his death. It’s the latest in a series of moves by West’s family to call attention to his death, which they say was a result of police brutality. Police beat West for nearly an hour after they pulled him over during a routine traffic stop in the summer, 2013. His family wants the officers charged. But prosecutors defended their actions, refusing to indict. Part of the conflict here at the Medical Examiner’s office is that they have yet to release a full autopsy. Today the family is here to address the issues. Now, Stephen, can you give me an update on what happened here today, and what Tawanda shared with the crowd? STEPHEN JANIS: Well, again she recounted some of the worst aspects of dying in police custody. That her family was, she believed, lied to by police initially afterwards, that the family car was never returned. That they said in the report that her brother didn’t have his license when they found her license in her brother’s house two days afterwards, after a mysterious break-in. That they didn’t get to see the body, they’ve never seen photographs of the body. That the Medical Examiner has yet to release a full report and that they did their own medical examination, exhumed their brother’s body and found that he died from positional asphyxiation. Which, I guess, you know, is something where the police hold caused him not to be able to breath. So, it really is recounting, in a sense, a nightmare for this family that continues, as they said 170 weeks later. And, as you can see, one of the worst things to happen in Baltimore, a very violent city, is to die at the hands of police, because you literally don’t get any information. So, but one of the things she did that really upped the ante, is shared a picture of her brother’s body, she took after the autopsy — that was just horrifying. TAYA GRAHAM: Right. STEPHEN JANIS: And I think this just shows, again, the pain of these families is never really answered because no one really answers their questions. And the basic problem is that there’s no transparency. So, let’s take a look and watch what happened at this press conference. It was very emotional and very moving. Let’s take a look. TAWANDA JONES: So, my name’s Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West, and this is my mom and my daughter and my family. And all… everybody out here is my family because they’ve been with us from day one. We’ve been out here for 177 weeks, trying to hold people accountable and the killer cops — every last one of them still walking the beat. From day one, when they walked in my family house, on July the 19th, for one, we didn’t get no formal call, nobody never once forgettin’. They walked in with lies, and when they watch this, we heard the recording, so I’m gonna play this little clip real quick. So, it’s kinda taking us back to that day. Because you can hear clearly, they walked in with a bunch of lies, then he gets to OD… when the chief never wanted, you know, hear. I can let you guys hear later. But they actually started praying with us. When we start asking violent(?) questions, like, “Why didn’t you call us?” You know, “What happened to our loved one? We see you were searching through the car.” And in his word, he called it a “cursory search, that required…” and all this … to make sure a dead body wasn’t in the back of my car, and all this. He said that the autopsy report was gonna be completed at 2:30 — and this is on the 19th on this call, when I recorded all of this. Well, with all that being said, they said everything was going to be transparent and nothing about this whole ordeal has been transparent. The lies we get from day one. So, on December the 10th, five months later, I’ll never forget, a reporter, her name was Atoria(?) and if you want her later, I can send it, she reported that my brother was murdered and he died from positional asphyxiation. And, you know, no sooner than that, then a man and the commissioner, the outdoor man, the outdoor commissioner, they came back with the foolishness from the Medical Examiner’s office, saying that my brother had a pre-existing heart problem. And, you know, due to cardiac arrhythmia, dehydration, that was the combination that killed him — which was a bunch of lies! So, that was their lie. Then recently this year, Dr. Mann, who went over all this stuff, he reported that positional asphyxiation, which we knew to be true. So, long story short, I had to wind up, my family and I, we had to go through the painful task of unearthing our loved one. Do you know how painful that was? Literally, unearthing him! So, they wanted to be the bearer of bad news right before the holidays, we got a present for them! FEMALE FAMILY MEMBER: You’re not gonna come up in here and start lying to my family. So, we knew it was time to get answers. It was time to walk the street, go back into the neighborhood where his murder occurred and start getting answers. And, of course, it was different from what the police were saying. As if, because you wear blue and a badge, you don’t lie. They lied from day one, but we promised Tyrone and we promised each other, we will not stop until we get the truth. What happened to our loved one? TAWANDA JONES: So, right here is one of my little gifts to independent foolishness. It was supposed to be a so-called thorough investigation, which regurgitated what the killer cops said. Nothing about what the witnesses described the horrible, brutal beating that was what killed Tones(?) over a half hour — brutally murdered! FEMALE FAMILY MEMBER: Beaten to death. TAWANDA JONES: By this foolishness! But I want you to be clear, and that’s why we’re demanding a thorough investigation. We’re demanding– FEMALE FAMILY MEMBER: Demanding! TAWANDA JONES: –that the State Attorney and the Mayor, open up the case and do a thorough investigation and put these killer cops in cell blocks! Mind you, they listed my brother as a John Doe. And I said why? And this is my bag that I picked up from Homicide. My bag that I picked up from Homicide, that said he was John Doe. Right? The only thing that I ever received back was my car keys. One set of keys, which I have to the day. They lied and said my car was on drug hold. They placed it in the… The day they came out on the 19th it was in drug hold. But yet they shipped it to the pound that same day. The autopsy was done 2:30 on the same day they came to us. But it took them five months to give us foolishness. But meanwhile, that says that he had his drivers’ license clear as day on him. Now, meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone broke into… WOMAN: Speak into the mic. TAWANDA JONES: I’m sorry. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, someone broke into my brother’s house mysteriously, two days after he was murdered. And the way the landlord described it, as if this house was raided. He said, “I don’t understand how they got in. They didn’t have keys.” And the neighbors described all his belongings being placed out in front, where people were coming by getting big screen TVs, all of his clothes and what not. Who breaks in and does that? But meanwhile, when I went in there, the only thing I could do was just, like, I’m… my mind was gone. My brother was just killed two days ago. Now, somebody done broke in his house? But meanwhile, guess what I found on the ground that somebody dropped? What is this? What is this? My brother’s driver’s license! What is this?! What is this!? And they want to tell us they did a thorough investigation! So, foolishness! But if that wasn’t nearly enough, … the Medical Examiner’s office, who lies for the police! FEMALE FAMILY MEMBER: Lies! TAWANDA JONES: They lied! FEMALE FAMILY MEMBER: Come on out! TAWANDA JONES: So, we have the report where they dug up my brother! But it’s still early, because meanwhile, while I was trying to get the doctor to do it, someone called to pretend to be me, to tell the doctor not to do it. What kind of sick foolishness is that? And, meanwhile, inside of here, the last time I saw my brother when he was in a casket, my brother had on a black shirt, grey and white tie, white pants, white belt. Meanwhile, he gets shipped to Alabama with a damn yellow shirt on! Who put a yellow shirt on him? WOMAN: “Active ingredients of illegal street drugs, and if toxicological analysis confirms they restrained a Mr. West in a prone position and compromising his breathing mechanism, is the main cause of his demise.” CROWD:WOMAN: “At this time, my education, training, experience, the review of scientific literature, the facts submitted in this matter and my post-mortem examination, I state with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that Mr. Tyrone West’s cause of death is positional asphyxia.” TAWANDA JONES: To this day, no autopsy pictures, only I.D. photos! And I’m goin’ up in there, after y’all leave ’cause I’m demanding, I want to see autopsy photos. Then I have something that I’m going to share with ya’ll that I’ve never shared with anyone! You better believe me when I tell you — I took pictures of my dead brother’s body! You’re not gonna hide him for five days! Are you kidding me?! Five days! We couldn’t see him, couldn’t talk to him. Nothing! Could not identify him! You think I’m not gonna take no pictures?! And there’s plenty more! I’m just gonna show one, great big one, and I don’t want my mom to see it! Look what happened to my brother! They cut him, my damn brother, and I’m not talking about no ‘Y’ shape! FEMALE FAMILY MEMBER: And I don’t want nobody taking no pictures ’cause I don’t want this all over… please… TAWANDA JONES: Sorry, sorry… sorry… But that’s what they did to my dead brother! And I have plenty more. So every day, that they want to play this friggin’ game, I’m gonna expose a picture! Give me my damn picture! Give me my autopsy pic… you lying, stinking animals! TAYA GRAHAM: So, Stephen, you spoke to our new Mayor, Catherine Pugh, and you asked her whether or not she would meet with Tyrone West’s family. What did she say? STEPHEN JANIS: Well, she was very blunt about it. She basically said no. Let’s watch the tape and let’s see what she said. STEPHEN JANIS: And they want to know if they have new evidence to present, you would meet with them about the case because they feel the case hasn’t gotten proper attention? CATHERINE PUGH: Yeah, but I don’t handle cases. I think that’s what we have a State’s Attorney’s Office for. I would direct them to the State’s Attorney’s Office. TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for The Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.