Chapman grand jury nears end

August 24, 1994|By Jay Apperson and Peter Hermann | Jay Apperson and Peter Hermann,Staff Writers

A Baltimore grand jury is nearing the end of its investigation into the death of Jesse Chapman Jr., a West Baltimore man whose death in police custody sparked several protests, sources familiar with the case said yesterday.

The grand jury has been hearing testimony on the circumstances surrounding Mr. Chapman's death since Friday and should wrap up its work within the next few days, the sources said.

Henry L. Belsky, a lawyer for five police officers assigned to desk duty in the wake of the Chapman death, said he has been told to expect a decision from the grand jury as early as today.

At issue is whether indictments will be returned against any of the five officers accused by relatives of Mr. Chapman, along with some residents of the Sandtown-Winchester community, of beating the man to death during a July 2 arrest in the 1100 block of N. Fulton Ave.

A preliminary autopsy report showed that Mr. Chapman, 30, who had problems with asthma, did not die from blunt force trauma. Prosecutors have refused to make the autopsy report public, arguing it is part of the investigation.

Elder Clyde Harris, a minister who has served as a spokesman for the witnesses and who lives several doors from where Mr. Chapman was arrested, said at least five people who say they saw officers beat Mr. Chapman have testified.

"It's going in the direction that we have been fighting for," he said of the grand jury probe, but he would not provide details of the witnesses' testimony.

"It is a glorious moment in the process for us," he said. "We are highly elated and are holding our breath."

Curtis Faulcon, who claims he saw officers beat Mr. Chapman, said he testified before the grand jury on Monday, answering questions from both a prosecutor and members of the panel. He would not comment further, saying he has been advised not to talk by prosecutors.

James E. Breakfield, who lives in front of where Mr. Chapman was arrested, said he testified for about an hour on Monday. Mr. Breakfield said he told the grand jury he saw several officers fTC beat Mr. Chapman as he lay handcuffed on the ground. He claims to have videotaped "events surrounding" the arrest, but has refused to show it to police or the media.

"I saw a crime committed. I have done my duty as a U.S. citizen to tell people about it," he said. "I hope justice prevails."

Mr. Belsky cited the autopsy results, along with what he termed conflicting testimony among witnesses, and said he is confident the officers will be vindicated. "For this case to go further would be a travesty," he added.

Mr. Chapman's death touched off protests in front of the western district police station and City Hall. In an extraordinary move, prosecutors traveled to West Baltimore to meet with witnesses who refused to come downtown to be interviewed as part of the investigation.

The investigation into the death also prompted a federal civil rights investigation. Mr. Chapman's relatives notified the city last month that they plan to file a multimillion-dollar lawsuit alleging police brutality.

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