by Richard B. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
The tears Tawanda Jones sheds flow freely at times. Her voice breaks a little. But none of it stops her from pressing for justice for her brother, who died during an encounter with police officers, and standing for others who have suffered similar losses.
The death of Freddie Gray and the uprising that followed brought attention from around the world to this majority Black city with a long history of police problems.
Before Freddie Gray there was Tyrone West, who is Jones’ brother, and there was Anthony Anderson, Trayvon Scott, George V. King and others who died in police custody, or encounters, without prosecutors finding anything was wrong.
“My family means everything to me,” said the 38-year-old educator. The two-year anniversary of Tyrone’s death is July 18, 2015. She sits in church with family, without her big brother. She cries as she describes what happened:
It was a typical summer day. Tyrone, who worked part-time, would drive her car, pick her up and take her to work. “It worked out perfectly,” she recalled. They talked, dropped her children off, dropped her off. Tyrone went to work and some other appointments. At the end of the day, Tyrone was waiting for her. Ironically she would talk to her brother about Officer Friendly visiting her summer class that day. They would talk about the death of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager in Florida, and the acquittal of his killer George Zimmerman.
“We’re worried about Zimmermans there, we got Zimmermans on every corner in Baltimore,” Tyrone said, according to his sister. He got a call from a new acquaintance, a young woman, on the hot day. The tired schoolteacher agreed to have him use her car to pick up his niece and pick up the young woman who was stranded.
A half-hour later she had a kind of premonition, sharp sudden pains in her neck, her body, and fell to the floor. She didn’t know what was happening. Her thoughts turned to Tyrone and his safety. She had always hoped driving her car would make things a little easier and help shield him from Black on Black violence. She could not reach him.
Later that night her partner shared news a media report would verify: Tyrone was dead after an encounter with city police officers while driving her green Mercedes in northeast Baltimore.
“My whole world just ended that day. I couldn’t breathe. I was here physically but spiritually, I was gone. It was heartbreaking,” she said.
Eyewitnesses told her Tyrone was beaten worse than Rodney King and officers brutalized him, she said. Police officers and the medical examiner gave the family the runaround to get her brother’s body and her car was impounded, she said. It took five days to see his body, but when the family saw his body it was already made up, she said. It didn’t look like Tyrone and her family has refused to let questions about his death go unanswered. An appeal to the state’s attorney at the time for help was rebuffed, she recalled. Prosecutors said the death was from natural causes related to dehydration and cardiac arrest. The medical examiner was inconclusive on whether officers were responsible for the death.
After months of trying to get answers and access, the state’s attorney met with the family and was cordial while a videographer recorded the meeting, said Ms. Jones. The camera was turned off after introductions and the state’s attorney’s persona changed too, she said.
Don’t get too comfortable in those seats. I am not going to charge the officers, she recalls the state’s attorney saying. Ms. Jones also said then State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein gave immunity to the officers involved in her brother’s death.
A special investigation found the police department erred numerous times during the investigation into the West death, according to media reports. Police failed to say where an alleged bag with cocaine was found and did not test it for Tyrone’s fingerprints, crime scene photos weren’t organized properly and the investigation focused too heavily on Tyrone’s criminal past but did not examine the records of the officers involved. The department also failed to inform the family and needed more transparency, the report added. It did not find any evidence of excessive force.
Despite the pain and threats following a wrongly edited media statement attributed to her about holding “killer cops” accountable, Jones and her family members have refused to quit.
She backed current states Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby over Bernstein, who she said callously mishandled her family. Every week is “West Wednesday,” where she, family members and supporters go out and continue to demand justice for Tyrone.
None of the officers involved in Tyrone’s case have been fired and some have been involved in other instances of brutality and death, she charged.
Dora Moses, 54, moved her children out of Baltimore fearing for their lives. She grew up and raised children here, but fled to Pennsylvania as overall violence and police violence took its toll. She especially feared for her son. She fears for her grandsons who are toddlers.
“I don’t see the problems being resolved to the degree where I feel safe with them being,” said the grandmother.
Her daughter’s boyfriend’s death at the hands of police officers on Liberty Heights Avenue was the final straw. She packed up with no plans, found a cheap home and left.
Her daughters have moved back to Baltimore and she worries about her six grandsons. She would like to see her daughters and grandchildren come back to Pennsylvania. She was in town to help her daughter with the active and talkative young boys.
Sitting on the steps of a row house where her daughter lives, she saluted protesters who marched by calling for justice in the killing of Freddie Gray, the unarmed Black man who the state’s attorney says was illegally arrested and negligently handled by police officers. Charges have been filed against six officers in connection with the death of the Sandtown-Winchester resident.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, between 2010 and 2014, at least 109 people died in police encounters in Maryland. In a briefing paper released earlier this year, the ACLU found deaths dispersed throughout 18 different jurisdictions across the state. But “nearly 70 percent of those who died in police encounters were Black … more than 40 percent of those who died were unarmed, and that police officers were criminally charged in less than two percent of the 109 cases cited by the ACLU.”
The ACLU compiled the paper after learning state officials do not track these cases, the group said.
“State leaders must act now to send a clear message to families, communities and police that all lives matter and that these deaths are not inevitable,” said Sonia Kumar, ACLU staff attorney, at the paper’s release. “We must report and track deaths in police encounters in order to learn the lessons that will prevent these tragedies from recurring.”
Ms. Jones said, “The only thing we can do is hold police accountable. We need to put things in place to make sure nobody else goes through this.”
JUSTICE DELAYED, DENIED AND REVERSED IN NEW ORLEANS
by Tribune Staff
There are still families, friends and community members throughout New Orleans waiting, fighting and praying for justice in the cases of a number of African-American citizens killed or wounded by police officers. In some cases, there is little hope.
These are just a few of those stories:
Jones’ death was ruled a homicide. The coroner said he was died from asphyxiation due to the “excessive physical force” used by the bouncers. Intentional or not, the actions of the Razzoo’s bouncers caused Jones’ death. Still, all four bouncers were acquitted of manslaughter charges.
Their trials were held outside of Orleans Parish as a result of a rarely granted change of venue.
Adolph Grimes III
Just six months after Adolph Grimes III was fatally wounded, the NOPD officers that shot him were cleared in his Jan. 1, 2009, killing. Grimes, a 22-year-old New Orleanian still residing in Houston after being displaced by Katrina, was visiting family for the holiday when he was shot 14 times by police after an encounter that begin while he was sitting in his car outside of his grandmother’s house on Gov. Nicholls Street in the Sixth Ward.
Within three minutes of the first police car’s arrival, Grimes was dead.
Police say Grimes had a gun and began shooting at them first. Grimes’ family and their attorney dispute claims that the young father fired at police. Nine of the 14 bullets that struck Grimes hit him in the back.
In January 2015, the US Department of Justice closed its investigation into Grimes death, bringing no charges against the nine officers involved in the shooting.
The very first injustice is that it has taken nearly ten years for Henry Glover’s death to be declared a homicide.
Glover was shot in the chest by NOPD officer David Warren at a strip mall in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Glover, with the help of another man William Tanner, attempted to get aid, and ended up handcuffed. Glover died of his wounds. NOPD Officer Greg McRae set fire to Glover’s body in Tanner’s car. David Warren was sentenced to 25 years and 9 months on a manslaughter conviction. Greg McRae got 17 years and 3 months for obstruction of justice. About a year and a half later, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated Warren’s convictions and two of McRae’s, ordering new trials. Warren was acquitted in the retrial. Warren is now free. His attorneys have even asked to be reimbursed for his defense.
The despite the new coroner’s ruling of Glover’s death as a homicide, it is doubtful that new charges will be brought against Warren, who has never denied shooting Glover.
Ronald Madison & James Brisette
Judge Engelhardt cited the online commenting scandal that emanated from the local U.S. Attorney’s Office under former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. The scandal involved two of Letten’s top prosecutors Sal Perricone and Jan Mann. Engelhardt called the prosecutorial misconduct of the federal attorneys who used fake names to comment on a local newspaper’s website about federal cases being prosecuted or investigated by the government “grotesque”. However, no other defendant in a federal case prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the eastern district of Louisiana has succeeded in using the online commenting scandal to receive relief in their cases, though former mayor Ray Nagin, former city councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, and former Jefferson Parish president Aaron Broussard, among others, tried.
The Justice Department is seeking an appeal of Judge Engelhardt’s decision to reverse the Danzinger convictions. If the government’s appeal is unsuccessful, the Madison and Brissette families along with the rest of the city may have to relive one of the most repulsive episodes in the city’s history.
Police say Justin Sipp began firing at officers, but his brother Earl, has said it is unclear who fired first.
All of the officers in the Sipp shooting were cleared. Girior was forced to resign from NOPD later only because of online comments he made regarding the death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen killed by George Zimmerman.
A judge recently dismissed the wrongful death suit filed by Justin Sipp’s father and brother Earl Sipp Sr. and Earl Sipp Jr.