Prisoner's death in city police van is ruled homicide Autopsy shows death caused by blow. Grand jury will consider whether to charge police.

March 13, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher and William B. Talbott | Michael A. Fletcher and William B. Talbott,Staff Writers

The state medical examiner's office has ruled, in a report released today, that the death of a 29-year-old drug suspect last week in the back of a police patrol wagon after a fight with officers is a homicide.

Dr. Ann Dixon, deputy chief medical examiner, said in a report to police late last night that Robert E. Privett died as a result of homicide by blunt trauma that caused abdominal bleeding.

As a result of that ruling, the case will be brought before a Baltimore grand jury on March 23, police said. The grand jury will determine whether any police officers should be charged in Mr. Privett's death.

Mr. Privett, a longtime drug user, was pronounced dead March 2 after the patrol wagon arrived at the Southeastern District police station. Paramedics pronounced him dead about an hour after his arrest.

Mr. Privett, who was in a fight with several police officers before his arrest, suffered four broken ribs and a ruptured spleen. His dentures were found lodged in his throat.

Several other prisoners who were in the van with Mr. Privett that night said he was lying unconscious and received no medical attention -- although the driver of the vehicle was aware of his condition.

Two prisoners said the driver in no way mistreated Mr. Privett or any other occupants of the wagon. But one characterized his comments and behavior regarding Mr. Privett as uncaring and indifferent.

Only when the patrol van was unloading did officers at the district notice that the man lying on the wagon floor had no pulse. Paramedics were called, and Mr. Privett was pronounced dead a few minutes later.

Police reports indicate Mr. Privett was arrested after Southeastern officers saw a man buy drugs at Jefferson and Port streets, then walk to the 2800 block of E. Fayette St., where a police officer confronted him.

Mr. Privett resisted arrest, according to police accounts, elbowing the officer in the chest and knocking both of them to the sidewalk. Other officers eventually subdued Mr. Privett. Sources said he apparently attempted to swallow drugs during the arrest.

A close friend of Mr. Privett acknowledged that the victim was in poor health when Monday night's confrontation occurred. Malcolm H. Welchsler confirmed that Mr. Privett was HIV-positive and, further, that the victim suffered from an enlarged spleen.

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