Notification of intent to sue filed in Chapman death

August 02, 1994|By Peter Hermann and Elaine Tassy | Peter Hermann and Elaine Tassy,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

Relatives of a man who died in the custody of Baltimore police last month notified the city yesterday that they plan to file a multi- million dollar lawsuit alleging police brutality.

In a two-page letter addressed to Neal Janey, the city solicitor, the family says it will seek $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The letter constitutes a routine notification required by law and is the first step toward filing a suit in court.

The relatives of Jesse Chapman Jr., 30, allege in the letter that Mr. Chapman was "beaten mercilessly" before and after he was handcuffed during his arrest in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave. Later, he was found dead in the back of a police van at the Western District police station.

"Numerous neighbors witnessed the occurrence and are understandably incensed by the . . . outrageous conduct," according to letter, written on behalf of Mr. Chapman's mother, Judith Weston, his ex-wife, Joyce Wilson and their 8-year-old son, Jesse E. Chapman 3rd.

Roland Walker, the lawyer representing the Chapman family, including the dead man's mother, Mrs. Weston, also said yesterday that the family is angry with the state's attorney's office for refusing to release a copy of the autopsy report, arguing it is part of the investigation.

"She is incensed," Mr. Walker said. "This was her child and she can't even find out what happened. . . . How is the state better off by withholding this from the family?" he asked.

Mrs. Weston said yesterday that she has repeatedly asked for a copy of the report since July 5 -- three days after Mr. Chapman's death.

"All I know is, every time I call, they tell me it [the autopsy report] is not available," she said, adding that Dr. Ann M. Dixon, who did the autopsy, and State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms, visited her after Mr. Chapman's funeral.

Ms. Weston said the doctor told her "there were no bruises, just scratches and abrasions." The mother said she doesn't believe their version. "I told her I would not have respect for anything else she would say."

Efforts to reach Mr. Janey were unsuccessful.

Mr. Chapman died after he was arrested by officers who chased him from the Western District police station after he beat his girlfriend there.

Several people who claim to have witnessed the arrest in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave. say officers beat Mr. Chapman, who lived in the 1300 block of N. Fulton Ave., and then threw his lifeless body in the back of the van.

The death touched off a round of community protests, forced police commanders to remove the five officers involved in the arrest from street duty in the Western District and prompted the FBI to launch a civil rights probe.

Police say a preliminary autopsy report indicates that Mr. Chapman, who suffered from asthma and had been on a cocaine binge before his arrest, did not die from blunt force trauma.

While the medical examiner's office completed its autopsy report several weeks ago, officials in that office have refused to make it public, saying they turned it over to the city state's attorney's office for its investigation. Mr. Simms refused again yesterday to make the report public, citing his continuing probe.

"As in any case where there is a death, a report is forwarded to us and by regulation we are at least given the opportunity not to release it until we have concluded our review," Mr. Simms said, confirming that he met with Mr. Chapman's family to explain his reasons.

The state's attorney said he could not give "any specific timetable" for when the autopsy report will be released.

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