Grand jury hears testimony on death of S. Baltimore man after his arrest

August 30, 1994|By Jay Apperson and Peter Hermann | Jay Apperson and Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writers

A Baltimore grand jury began hearing testimony yesterday in the death of a South Baltimore man who suffered a head injury after falling to the sidewalk while being arrested by two city police officers.

At least three witnesses testified at the panel's closed session on the events surrounding the arrest of 31-year-old George T. Hite, said Deborah Wood, one of the witnesses.

Mark Cohen, an assistant state's attorney, confirmed that the case went to the grand jury yesterday.

Ms. Wood, a resident of the block where the arrest occurred, said she testified for about 30 minutes yesterday morning. She said there were two other witnesses she could not identify but recognized as "people from the neighborhood." She said a prosecutor told her more witnesses were scheduled for the afternoon.

Mr. Cohen would not say which witnesses testified.

Ms. Wood would not discuss her testimony but said of the case, "I'm glad it went before the grand jury."

Mr. Hite died Aug. 9, nearly two months after he lapsed into a coma after hitting his head on the pavement in front of his house in the 200 block of S. Fulton Ave. The Baltimore state's attorney's office is withholding an autopsy report on Mr. Hite.

Mr. Hite was injured shortly after midnight June 19, as officers arrested him on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

Witnesses have accused the arresting officers of deliberately tripping Mr. Hite after he was handcuffed.

The officers have said that Mr. Hite slipped while they were trying to handcuff him, according to police.

The arresting officers, Jae Yim, 25, and Stanley Reaves, 22, were assigned to administrative duties in the Southern District four days after the arrest. The allegations of police brutality in the Hite case prompted investigations by the city police, the FBI and the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

Dan Johnson, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore office, said yesterday that the federal civil rights investigation is likely to be completed in two to three weeks. He said investigators will include the results of the grand jury investigation in a report to the U.S. Department of Justice, where a decision will be made on whether to prosecute.

Mr. Cohen, the prosecutor, was unable to say when the grand jury's review of the case would be completed.

The grand jury considering the case is the same panel that last week dismissed allegations that city police officers beat Jesse Chapman Jr. to death during an arrest last month on a West Baltimore street.

On July 25, the same grand jury indicted Baltimore Officer George S. Cannida III on second-degree rape and other charges in an alleged attack on a woman at her home, where he had gone looking for an auto theft suspect. Officer Cannida has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Mr. Hite's brother, Edward W. Hite Sr., of Ashland, Va., welcomed news that the grand jury had begun to look into the case. He said he and other family members were told in a meeting Friday with representatives from the state's attorney's office that the case would probably be presented to the grand jury, but they were not told when.

"That's all we can ask for," Mr. Hite said. "They could have come back and said they didn't find anything. At least now, some citizens of the city will get to take a look at it. I hope they see it the same way that we do" -- that his brother was deliberately tripped.

Howard Chaplinski, who lives in the 200 block of S. Fulton Ave., said he is scheduled to appear before the grand jury today.

Police said Mr. Hite was drinking a beer on his front stoop when he yelled at officers who were searching a drug suspect nearby. Two officers told Mr. Hite to be quiet and arrested him after he continued to verbally harass them, according to witnesses.

After Mr. Hite fell, he was placed in a police wagon and taken to the Southern District, where he complained to the desk sergeant of pain in his right eye.

Police took him to Harbor Hospital Center. He was transferred to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center because of his worsening condition. He became comatose and, given little chance of recovery, was moved in July to the Greenery Extended Care Center in Baltimore, where he died three weeks ago after developing pneumonia, said Thomas C. Cardaro, a lawyer for Mr. Hite's family.

Patricia Jessamy, a Baltimore deputy state's attorney, said that her office received an autopsy report on Mr. Hite Friday, but will not release it until the investigation is completed.

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