Mourners recall man who died in back of police van

July 10, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer

Jesse Chapman, whose death in the back of a Baltimore police van a week ago touched off days of community protest, was buried yesterday, remembered as a man with a great laugh who tried to work through his problems.

His death -- some witnesses say he was beaten by police -- continued to occupy city officials, too.

An aide to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday the mayor plans to meet with West Baltimore leaders in an effort to ease tensions between residents and Western District police officers.

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who was Mr. Schmoke's representative at Mr. Chapman's funeral, said the mayor "wants to try to forge some better relations between the Sandtown community and the Western District and to assure the community that [Mr. Chapman's] death will be thoroughly investigated."

"Historically, there's been some tension," Mr. Henson said, between West Baltimore residents and the police. No date has been set for a meeting with Mr. Schmoke, who will return tomorrow from a visit to Toronto.

The FBI, city police and Baltimore's state's attorney are investigating the death of Mr. Chapman. Five police officers who pursued him were taken off their beats Friday and reassigned to desk jobs as the investigations progress.

At Mr. Chapman's funeral, mourners focused on the smiling man they remember more than the circumstances of his death -- after a skirmish at the Western District police station, a short foot chase, a tussle with police and a ride back to the station in an arrest van. A preliminary autopsy showed he was using cocaine.

The Rev. P. M. Smith of Huber Memorial United Church of Christ said yesterday that "Jesse's mother put it well. She said, 'Jesse was no angel. But he was my son.' "

"It wasn't easy for Jesse," Mr. Smith said. "Jesse had struggles, just like you, just like me.

"These are troubling times," the minister said. "When grandmothers are burying grandbabies, there's something unnatural about that. When those who are supposed to protect life and limb become instruments of taking life and limb, these are troubling times."

But Mr. Smith asked, "How many other young men between Jan. 1 and July died within the Western District when the perpetrator and the victim were brothers? And we didn't rise up?

"The solutions to the problems that we face as a people are not outside our community," Mr. Smith said. "The solutions to the problems we face as a people exist within our community."

The Rev. Daki Napata told the guests at March Funeral Home on East North Avenue, "There is no question that being a black man in American is not easy. There is no question that being poor in America is not easy. The struggle will continue and justice will come. No justice, no peace."

A friend of Mr. Chapman's, Jackie Capel, added: "Jesse was very fun loving. He had the silliest laugh. He had a way of making everyone smile. You couldn't ask for a better friend."

Mr. Chapman, who was 30, was pronounced dead at 11:57 p.m. July 2 in a police van at the Western District station in the 1000 block of N. Mount St.

He had followed his girlfriend, Selma Battle, 29, to the station at 11:30 that night. Inside the station, police said, he had cursed her and tried to punch her. Officers chased Mr. Chapman from the station to a rowhouse around the corner in front of 1141 N. Fulton Ave. Several witnesses have told The Sun that the officers beat Mr. Chapman as he lay on the sidewalk.

Police officials say the officers subdued Mr. Chapman and put him in the back of the police wagon for the short trip back to the station, where he was found dead.

Preliminary autopsy results showed minor scratches and abrasions on Mr. Chapman and no evidence of bruises, broken bones or internal injuries that would indicate a serious beating. .. More detailed results are not expected for weeks, police officials say.

The autopsy also found Mr. Chapman had been using cocaine at the time of his death and suffered from chronic bronchial problems.

His death sparked a series of protests at the Western District station.

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