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Crime & Justiceby Alex Kaplan7:00 pmMay 2, 20160

Family of Tyrone West calls on prosecutors to reopen case

44-year-old died of suffocation and not a heart condition, expert hired by family says

Above: Tawanda Jones, Tyrone West’s sister, weeps as his aunt, Diane Butler, addresses the media. (Louie Krauss)

The family of Tyrone West assembled at the state medical examiner’s office today to call on prosecutors to reopen his case, saying that their expert’s review of the autopsy shows that West died of asphyxiation.

West’s sister, Tawanda Jones, blasted the medical examiner’s office for its conclusion that West died of a pre-existing heart condition during his 2013 traffic stop and arrest by Baltimore police.

“To me, the medical examiner’s office is either incompetent or in cahoots with covering up my brother’s brutal murder,” Jones said.

The independent forensic review she cited was conducted by Dr. William Manion, a registered forensic pathologist from Salem County, N.J., as part of the family’s multi-million-dollar federal lawsuit.

Jones and other family members are calling on State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby to sign off on a request to exhume West’s body and conduct a new autopsy based on Manion’s findings.

The state’s attorney’s office has not yet responded to a request for comment.

“We’re going deeper and we’re going further because it doesn’t stop here or now,” Jones said.

The family of Tyrone West says new evidence means prosecutors should reopen the case. From left, Emma Anderson (with microphone), Tawanda Jones and Diane Butler. (Louie Krauss)

The family of Tyrone West says new evidence means that prosecutors should reopen the case. Emma Anderson speaks into the microphone in front of the medical examiner’s office on West Baltimore Street. To her right is Tawanda Jones, Diane Butler and Clifton West. (Louie Krauss)

Family: West was Healthy

West’s arrest came at a traffic stop conducted by police after he reversed into an intersection in Northeast Baltimore near Morgan State University.

While searching the 44-year-old, police said they noticed a bulge in his sock and suspected it was illegal drugs. Police said a bag of cocaine was found at the scene. The officers said they pursued West and tackled him to the ground. He died at the scene in handcuffs.

A witness said that the two initial officers and others who arrived at the scene continued to assault West after he stopped resisting. But no officers were charged in connection with West’s death.

The autopsy conducted by the state medical examiner did not find injuries or evidence of asphyxiation. The Police Internal Review Board concluded in August 2014 that West died as a result of overexertion in the July heat, combined with a pre-existing heart condition.

West’s family has maintained that he had no health issues and had received a clean bill of health after a medical checkup the month before his death.

“He was so healthy that he would help his grandmother, our mother, do her exercises every morning,” said Emma Anderson, West’s aunt. “He’d even pick her up and carry her up and down the steps. So saying his health caused this is just foolish.”

“Positional Asphyxia”

Manion, chief of pathology at Memorial Hospital of Salem County, has said West’s “cardiac conduction system abnormality” would not suffice to explain the death of an otherwise healthy man. Manion instead proposed that West died of “positional asphyxia” or suffocation due to the manner he was restrained.

Led by Jones,West’s family has been conducting a campaign to persuade Mosby to reopen the case, which dates back to her predecessor, State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein. Among their strategies have been weekly “West Wednesdays,” public demonstrations to call attention to what they believe was a brutal arrest.

Last month, Mosby said her office concluded there is not enough evidence to reopen the investigation. Jones today said she believes Manion’s report constitutes new information that she hopes may change Mosby’s decision.

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