BALTIMORE (AP) — An independent autopsy on a man who had a fatal encounter with Baltimore police says he died of asphyxiation while being restrained, not of a heart condition as the state’s autopsy found.
Tyrone West, 44, died after a struggle with police following a July 2013 traffic stop. The Maryland Office of the Medical Examiner had ruled that he died of a heart condition in extremely hot weather.
His sister, Tawanda Jones, who holds a weekly vigil seeking justice in West’s death, commissioned the new autopsy. Jones has urged Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to reopen the case, but Mosby has said that without new evidence, she won’t.
West, who is African-American, died after being arrested on July 18, 2013. Police said they pulled the man over for backing down a street into an intersection. After officers asked West to get out of the car and sit on the curb, they spotted a bulge in one of his socks and suspected drugs, police have said.
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Six officers were involved in restraining West, officials said.
Authorities said a bag recovered at the scene contained cocaine. The officers said West ran, but officers chased him and tackled him to the ground. When West died, he was in handcuffs, according to police.
West’s official state autopsy revealed no serious injuries or signs of asphyxia, and the officers were not charged.
Jones and her family weren’t satisfied; the new autopsy report is their latest attempt to draw attention to West’s case, and to provide support to other families whose loved ones have died at the hands of police.
Mosby’s office and the police department did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on the new autopsy.
“I never miss a Wednesday,” the prekindergarten teacher said in an interview with The Associated Press last year. She describes her brother as a kind, gentle and law-abiding father.
According to the state medical examiner, another contributing factor in West’s death may have been “the extreme environmental temperatures, which were reported in the high 90s” the day of his arrest.
The independent autopsy was conducted in June by Dr. Adel Shaker, a former medical examiner in Alabama and Mississippi. Shaker concluded West died of so-called positional asphyxia from being restrained in a prone position.
“West’s cause of death is positional asphyxia, where he was not able to breathe during restraint process when he was held down by police officers sitting on him,” Shaker wrote. He also wrote that restraining West in a prone position while compromising his breathing is “the main cause of his demise.”
The Baltimore Police Department’s Independent Review Board said in a report published in August 2014 that West “died of cardiac arrhythmia due to cardiac conduction system abnormality complicated by dehydration during police restraint,” and stopped short of blaming the officers involved for his death. The board did, however, find that the officers used poor judgment, and determined that the investigation “did not reflect the highest standards and practice for objective and independent investigative practice in officer-involved police death.”
The West family had previously hired an independent investigator to review the state’s autopsy findings. That investigator concluded that West suffocated.
The case has attracted renewed attention since the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a black man whose neck was broken in the back of a Baltimore police van while handcuffed and shackled but otherwise unrestrained. Gray’s death inspired protests, and prompted rioting then.
The U.S. Department of Justice also opened an investigation into city police practices and subsequently released findings that said police used unnecessary force, racial profiling and discriminatory conduct.