Schmoke, Simms fault FOP's Chapman remarks

July 15, 1994|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

Baltimore's mayor and state's attorney lashed out at the city police union yesterday, saying union officials have made inappropriate comments about an investigation into the death of a West Baltimore man who some witnesses say was beaten by police as he was being arrested.

Also yesterday, the state medical examiner's office announced it had completed an autopsy report on Jesse Chapman's body and had forwarded a copy to State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms. But authorities refused to release a copy to the public, saying the investigation remains in a sensitive stage.

Tension surrounding the case continued to escalate yesterday as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke used his weekly news briefing to complain about the union chief.

"The Fraternal Order of Police needs strong leadership, and I understand that," Mr. Schmoke said. "But he should listen sometimes rather than just go flying off the handle."

Mr. Schmoke was referring to comments made Wednesday by Fraternal Order of Police President Lt. Leander S. Nevin, who criticized the investigation into Mr. Chapman's death on July 2. Mr. Nevin said city officials have politically tainted the probe.

The union chief also described Mr. Chapman as a former police informant, a proclamation that city officials said put his surviving family at risk of retribution from drug dealers.

"I find recent comments about the background of Mr. Chapman extremely offensive and unprofessional," Mr. Simms said yesterday. "I am extremely disturbed that, for whatever reason, certain police union representatives made comments in this matter. Those comments were insensitive."

Mr. Chapman, 30, died in a city police wagon after having been arrested in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave. after a fight with his girlfriend.

Some witnesses said he was beaten by five Western District officers -- a claim vehemently denied by the police union.

His death sparked three days of protests in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood and eventually led Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier to reassign the five officers to desk duty while the investigation is completed.

Police officials had said that preliminary autopsy reports showed that Mr. Chapman did not die of blunt force trauma, a finding that the union argued vindicated the officers.

The state medical examiner's office said yesterday that the final copy had been given to Mr. Simms. But officials said they were not obligated to share it yet with the public.

"It is up to [Mr. Simms'] office to determine what information is made public and when it is made public," said Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman for the state health department, which oversees the medical examiner.

Efforts to reach Mr. Nevin were unsuccessful yesterday. On Wednesday, he accused city officials of "destroying every confidence that the public has in our officers on the street" by supporting a federal investigation into the case.

The mayor said his involvement in the case -- which included attending a community meeting Tuesday to appeal to witnesses to provide information -- has been in the interest of justice and easing community pain.

"It's not political for me to go out and meet with a community that is in pain and is hurting because a man died in front of the eyes of a lot of folks," Mr. Schmoke said. "That is not political. That's my job."

While Mr. Schmoke did not confirm Lieutenant Nevin's revelation that Mr. Chapman was a police informant, he said that police have offered protection to Mr. Chapman's family, which thus far they have not accepted.

Witnesses refused to meet with investigators Tuesday, saying that they don't trust police. But Mr. Simms said yesterday that a community meeting was set for Monday night "at a neutral site" so their testimony can be heard.

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