Grand jury won't indict city officer

September 01, 1994|By Michael James and Howard Libit | Michael James and Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Peter Hermann and Jay Apperson contributed to this article.

A Baltimore grand jury opted yesterday not to indict a city police officer in the death of a man who fell to the sidewalk during a struggle with arresting officers, the city state's attorney reported.

The grand jury determined that although 31-year-old George T. Hite of South Baltimore died of a head injury incurred during the altercation, the police were not responsible for the deadly fall to the pavement.

It is the second time in less than a week that the grand jury has refused to indict police in an arrest that resulted in death.

The second grand jury probe involved Southern District Officer Jae Yim, 25, who had been accused of tripping Mr. Hite while arresting him June 19 in the 200 block of S. Fulton Ave. for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, said Deputy State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy.

Mr. Hite later lapsed into a coma and died Aug. 9 of complications from the head injury and pneumonia.

Prosecutors said the grand jury heard from 20 witnesses -- including a deputy chief medical examiner who ruled the death was technically a homicide.

"While this action will conclude the state's inquiry into this matter, appropriate reviews can be conducted by the U.S. attorney's office and federal investigative agencies as well as the Baltimore City Police Department," city State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said.

The news came as a surprise to Mr. Hite's family, who said yesterday that they were expecting an indictment to be returned.

"We are very disappointed. We really thought we had enough evidence to get an indictment," said Mary Wheaton, Mr. Hite's sister, who lives in Baltimore.

Ms. Wheaton said she disputes the contention that Mr. Hite fell while the officers were handcuffing him, since some witnesses testified he was already handcuffed when his head hit the ground.

"I would like to know, if he fell, how did he fall? What prompted the fall? I just don't understand," Ms. Wheaton said.

An autopsy concluded that Mr. Hite died of "a head injury complicated by bronchopneumonia" and the manner of death was "homicide" -- meaning the person died as a result of some type of confrontation with someone.

"If there is indication that the cause of death resulted from the interaction of the victim with another individual, during an altercation or a struggle -- such as in this case -- then that would make the manner of death a homicide," said Dr. John E. Smialek, the state's chief medical examiner.

But he added that in all deaths ruled to be homicides, it is up to investigative bodies -- such as a grand jury -- to decide if criminal charges will be brought.

Henry L. Belsky, a city Fraternal Order of Police lawyer who represented Officer Yim, said the officer is "relieved" to hear the grand jury probe is over. Mr. Belsky questioned the high level of scrutiny the officer was put through and criticized plaintiff lawyers who frame such cases in terms of civil rights.

They see the chance to make money," Mr. Belsky said. "They are pressing harder than they used to in order to force the state to indict or at least investigate."

He added, "The state's attorney should at least make the initial decision himself. If there's not a crime, then he should not take it before the grand jury."

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 -- Officer Yim and Officer Stanley Reaves, 22 -- 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. His condition continued to worsen until he eventually went into a coma.

The state's attorney's announcement yesterday did not make any mention of Officer Reaves.

Edward W. Hite Sr., Mr. Hite's brother who lives in Ashland, Va., said in a statement last night, "Our only hope is that the Police Department completes its internal investigation and realizes that they do have a problem in this department. . . . Then changes can be made so that future people won't encounter the same problems that my brother did."

Ronald Brown, 43, who testified before the grand jury on Tuesday, said he was shocked at the grand jury's decision.

"It was a terrible decision. I don't know how they come up with that. . . . That police kicked that man's legs out from under him and busted his head on concrete. His hands were handcuffed."

The grand jury's decision is the second this month in which it chose not to indict city police officers in connection with a questionable death.

Last week, the same grand jury dismissed allegations that city police officers beat Jesse Chapman Jr. to death during an arrest in West Baltimore.

In that case, an autopsy determined that Mr. Chapman did not die of a police beating but after his heart-lung system collapsed under the stress of cocaine use, an asthma attack and a struggle with arresting officers.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.