US

Maryland board OKs settlement in police custody death case

A state board in Maryland approved a $400,000 settlement on Wednesday in the case of a Baltimore man who died during a struggle with police, and a second settlement with the city could bring the total amount of compensation to $1 million.

The Board of Public Works approved the settlement for Tyrone West's family. Tawanda Jones, West's sister, has held weekly demonstrations dubbed West Wednesday's since her brother's 2013 death to raise awareness about Baltimore police practices. She said she withdrew from the lawsuit and isn't receiving any money, because she didn't want to agree to stop pursuing criminal charges.

"I'm on the right side of justice, and that's holding these killer cops accountable," Jones said. "The next time they see Tawanda Jones down at a table, it's going to be in a courtroom so these killer cops can be in cell blocks."

A $600,000 settlement will be brought before Baltimore officials next month, A. Dwight Pettit, a family attorney, said. The money will go to West's three children, he said.

"We are very pleased that the state has done its share, and now we're waiting for the city to do its part," Pettit said.

Officers stopped West in July 2013 for a traffic violation. Police said they noticed a bulge in his sock and when officers tried to inspect it, the 44-year-old started running.

Officers chased him and a struggle ensued. An official autopsy said West died of a heart condition during the struggle. But the family disputed the cause of death and commissioned an autopsy review that concluded West died because he was unable to breathe while restrained.

The police department has said officers recovered a bag of cocaine from West. But in a document filed in April as part of a federal lawsuit against the department, West's family said the department has been unable to produce the drugs from their evidence locker, nor any documentation of it.

Two of the officers involved in West's arrest — Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz — were involved in a violent arrest two weeks prior to the incident. In that case, a jury awarded Abdul Salaam $70,000 in his lawsuit.

The Baltimore Police Department was thrust into the national spotlight in the spring of 2015, after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray prompted protests and civil unrest. Gray died a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police transport van while he was handcuffed and shackled, but not fastened into a seatbelt.