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Family of Man Who Died in Custody: Evidence Missing in Case

JULIET LINDERMAN, Associated Press

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Baltimore Police Department has been unable to produce the drugs it says were found on a man who died during a struggle with officers, the man’s family says.

RELATED: Review Of Tyrone West City Police Custody Death Reveals Flaws

Officers stopped 44-year-old Tyrone West in July 2013 for a traffic violation. Police said they noticed a bulge in his sock and when officers tried to inspect it, West started running.

Officers chased him and eventually a struggle ensued. West died during the struggle of a heart condition, an official autopsy said. The family disputes the cause of death, and last year commissioned a review of the autopsy that concluded West died because he was unable to breathe while being restrained.

The police department has said officers recovered a bag of cocaine from West. In a document filed earlier this month as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit against the department, West’s family said the department has been unable to produce the drugs from their evidence locker, nor any documentation of it.

The filing said attorneys representing the West family subpoenaed the police department to inspect and photograph the drugs, but that the department’s attorneys advised that they couldn’t produce the drugs and “had no explanation of where it was.”

The department declined to comment due to ongoing litigation.

Two of the officers involved in West’s arrest— Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz — were involved in violent arrest two weeks prior to the incident. In that case, a jury awarded Abdul Salaam $70,000 in his lawsuit.

West’s sister, Tawanda Jones, has held weekly demonstrations, dubbed West Wednesdays, since her brother’s death, and has played a central role in raising awareness about Baltimore police practices.

The Baltimore Police Department was thrust into the national spotlight in the spring of 2015, after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray prompted protests and civil unrest. Gray died a week after his neck was broken in the back of a police transport van while he was handcuffed and shackled, but not fastened into a seatbelt.

Gray’s death prompted the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation into allegations of widespread misconduct within the police department, and last year issued a scathing report detailing abuses that included unlawful stops, racial profiling and excessive force.

The Justice Department and the city reached an agreement to overhaul the police department, and a federal judge signed off on it earlier this month despite pushback from newly minted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who since taking office has announced his intention to back away from consent decrees.

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(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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