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State board to consider $400K settlement with family of Tyrone West

The state Board of Public Works is expected to vote Wednesday on a $400,000 settlement with the family of a man who died while handcuffed three years ago as he was being arrested by Baltimore city police officers.

The proposed settlement between Morgan State University and the family and estate of Tyrone A. West Sr. is the first of two such payments. A second settlement, between the city and the family, is also expected to be completed soon.

A. Dwight Pettit, a Baltimore lawyer representing the family, confirmed the pending settlements Tuesday but declined to comment until after they are finalized.

The city component of the settlement would have to be approved by the Board of Estimates. That panel also meets on Wednesday, but a payment to West’s family was not on the agenda as of Tuesday afternoon. It is not immediately known how much the city is expected to pay out to the family.

A spokesman for Mayor Catherine Pugh’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment.

A trial in the case, scheduled for earlier this month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, recently had been moved to September, according to online court records.

West, 44, was driving a green Mercedes and working as an illegal cab service July 18, 2013 when he was pulled over by Baltimore City Police Officers Officers Nicholas David Chapman and Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz near Kitmore Road and Northwood Drive.

During the stop, one of the officers allegedly spotted a substance balled up in West’s sock, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by West’s family in August 2013.

Police later said the substance was cocaine, but West’s family alleged in court filings the department was unable to produce the drugs from their evidence locker, nor any documentation of it.

West allegedly tried to flee and an altercation ensued.

Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz allegedly traded punches with West as well as struck him with batons, kicked him and hogtied him. David Lewis, an officer with the Morgan State University Police assisted and sat on West while he was on the ground, according to the lawsuit. West died while in handcuffs.

An assistant medical examiner ruled that West died of a heart condition and showed no signs of asphyxia nor significant injuries to warrant a determination of homicide. The medical examiner also said she could not rule out “positional asphyxia” as a result of being hogtied, as Pettit and West’s family allege, according to the lawsuit. But an independent autopsy later performed for the family concluded West died of suffocation.

The case is Tawanda Jones, et al., v. Officer Nicholas Chapman, et al., 1:14-cv-02627-ELH.

Neither officer was charged in West’s death. But West’s sister, Tawanda Jones, has stood vigil in the city every Wednesday since his death to demonstrate against police abuse.


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