Death of man in police custody stirs protest

July 06, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

Sparked by the death of a man who struggled with Baltimore police over the weekend, more than 100 protesters converged at the Western District police station yesterday, angrily confronted its commander and called for the suspension of the officers involved in the incident.

The protesters accuse the officers of beating the man to death. But the preliminary results of an autopsy do not support the protesters' claims, according to the city police commissioner. Holding signs saying, "Badges to kill," and "We pay you to protect us, not kill us," neighborhood residents and children circled the station and charged cover-up in the death of Jesse Chapman, 30.

"What I witnessed in front of my doorstep was a travesty of justice anywhere in America," said James E. Breakfield, who said he saw the incident. "We are not going to let the Police Department off the hook."

Maj. Victor D. Gregory, commander of the Western District, defended keeping the four officers involved in Mr. Chapman's arrest on regular patrol duties. He said there is not enough evidence to warrant suspending the officers.

"We do not condone brutality. The investigation is on-going."

The protesters gathered some two hours after Commissioner Thomas Frazier said preliminary autopsy results show that Mr. Chapman's body had no evidence of blunt force trauma, and that investigators were awaiting lab tests to determine the cause of death.

"He did not die at the hands of the police," the commissioner said in an interview at police headquarters.

Mr. Chapman, who lives in the 1300 block of N. Fulton Ave., was pronounced dead at 11:57 p.m. Saturday in the back of a police wagon at the Western District station, located in the 1000 block of N. Mount St.

Officers had just arrested Mr. Chapman after a struggle in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave., after he followed his girlfriend, Selma Battle, 29, into the Western District station, cursed her and tried to punch her, police said.

Officers chased Mr. Chapman from the station to a rowhouse around the corner in front of 1141 N. Fulton Ave., police said.

James E. Breakfield said he watched from his front window as several officers beat Mr. Chapman, even though "he appeared to be totally incapacitated up against the wall," according to a three-page statement he sent to U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and FTC the Police Department.

Mr. Breakfield said he saw at least one officer kick Mr. Chapman while the suspect was handcuffed and lying face down on the sidewalk.

Necie Bailey, 25, also of the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave., said she watched officers take him away.

"They were putting him in the wagon," she said. "I don't know if he was dead. He wasn't moving."

Officer Sabrina Tapp-Harper, a police spokeswoman, said officers called for an ambulance when they found Mr. Chapman lying unconscious in the wagon. Fire Department medics pronounced him dead.

Commissioner Frazier said police have learned that Mr. Chapman had problems with asthma, and had been hospitalized Friday at Liberty Medical Center for treatment.

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