Tyrone West Hearing – January 30, 2021, 10 am Eastern
Transcript: Hearing on the Case of Tyrone West
- Rapporteur Priscilla Ocen
- Commissioner Mr. Hannibal Uwaifo
- Commissioner Sir Clare Roberts
- Ms. Tawanda Jones, the sister of Tyrone West
- Ms. Nana Gyamfi, attorney, president of the National Conference of Black Lawyers
- Mr. Christopher Lawrence, law student
- Ms. Jasmine Smith, law student
Priscilla Ocen 00:00
So we’ll go ahead and get started. All right, good morning. Welcome to the hearings of the International Commission of Inquiry on systemic racist police violence against people of African descent in the United States. These hearings are a process by which witnesses can present accounts of unjustified killings and maimings of black people by police in the United States before an international panel of human rights experts. We will now begin the hearing in the case of Tyrone West. My name is Priscilla Ocen, and I am the rapporteur for this meeting. Presiding over this hearing is Commissioner Sir Clare Roberts of Antigua. And Commissioner Hannibal Uwaifo of Nigeria. The witnesses for today’s hearing are Nana Gyamfi, Chris Lawrence, Jasmine Smith, and Tawanda Jones. There will be 50 minutes allocated for this hearing. Witnesses will testify, followed by a period of questions for commissioners. I will call time at 30 minutes and 45 minutes so please excuse any interruptions that may occur. Commissioners Roberts and Uwaifo I now present you our first witness, Nana Gyamfi. Miss Gyamfi, please confirm your name.
Nana Gyamfi 01:23
Priscilla Ocen 01:26
Do you promise that your testimony to the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Nana Gyamfi 01:32
Yes, I do.
Priscilla Ocen 01:33
Nana Gyamfi 01:34
Thank you. Good morning and good afternoon, commissioners. Thank you, Professor Ocen. Thank you, steering committee and commission for the opportunity to testify about the matter of Tyrone West. I’m not the attorney who brought the case. But I want to share the basic facts of the case with you as efficiently as possible so that we can hear from Ms. Jones about her journey for justice for her brother. On July 18 2013, the Baltimore Police Department took the life of Mr. West, a 44 year old grandfather, father, brother and beloved community member. That evening Mr. West, who operated a community ride service was giving one of his neighbors Ms. S a ride to work. While driving an unmarked vehicle, two Baltimore Police Department officers, Jorge Omar Hernandez Ruiz, and Nicholas Chapman began to follow the car driven by Mr. West. Police reports claimed that Mr. West committed a traffic violation while backing up the vehicle. Civilian eyewitnesses indicate that Mr. West did not commit a traffic violation that in fact, he merely stopped his car briefly and then continued driving. While following Mr. West, officers claimed that they observed a suspicious activity by Mr. West and his passenger, in which they claimed the two were moving around like they were trying to hand something off to each other. After following Mr. West for a short period, the officers initiated a traffic stop because the police were in an unmarked car. Some civilian witnesses initially believed the police who approached the vehicle with weapons drawn were attempting to rob Mr. West and his passenger.
Nana Gyamfi 03:38
The police repeatedly asked Mr. West or Ms. S if they had drugs or weapons in the car. The two denied it. The two officers directed Mr. West and Ms. C to exit the vehicle and sit on the curb. police reports indicate that Mr. West and Ms. S complied. However, the family of Mr. West and their attorneys later received conflicting reports from eyewitnesses that indicated the officers’ initial contact with Mr. West was much more violent and much more abusive. Witnesses indicated that officer Chapman reached into the car and pulled Mr. West out by his dreadlocks. Mr. West was heard screaming out “get off of my hair” as he was pulled to the ground. Witnesses report also that the officer Chapman said this is what we do to you using an expletive and N-words and that his colleague Fernandez Ruiz agreed and told Mr. West to get the F on the ground and tased him as many as four times on his neck. Despite lacking consent or probable cause to search the interior of Mr. West’s vehicle for drugs or weapons officer Chapman searched the vehicle and found nothing. The officers requested permission according to them to search the trunk of the vehicle. And according to the officers, they received permission from Mr. West and searched the trunk. However, witnesses reported that Mr. West refused to permit a search of the trunk and indicated that the vehicle belonged to his sister, which was true. Officers found nothing. There are conflicting reports from the police on whether Mr. West was wearing short pants or rolled his pant legs up past his ankles as he sat on the ground, Officer Bernandez Ruiz claimed he observed a golf ball sized object in Mr. West’s sock. He claimed that Mr. West brushed his hand away when the officer reach toward his foot. Officers responded according to witnesses by grabbing Mr. West and attempting to arrest him as he was on the ground. Ms. S testified in her deposition in this case that as Mr. West attempted to stand, the officers rolled him over on his backside and then got him over on his stomach. She added that the white policeman put his knee, his left knee at the back of Mr. West, while West was on his stomach. The officers directly pepper sprayed him several times in his face and neck.
In reaction to this spray, Mr. West screamed and tried to stand up, throwing officers Chapman off of him and officer Bernandez Ruiz falling into the police car. Community witnesses described Mr. West’s actions as those of a man defending himself for his life and seeking relief from the assault he was experiencing from officers Bernandez Ruiz and officer Chapman. Officer Bernandez Ruiz was beating Mr. West. Officer Chapman joined Bernandez Ruiz in beating Mr. West. Then, and while continuing to beat Mr. West, Officer Bernandez Ruiz sent a radio request for backup. Using their fists and batons, the officers continued to beat Mr. West who is defending himself from the assault by attempting to block and avoid their blows. According to witnesses, all reports indicate that Mr. West was able to briefly get free from the assault and ran with his hands in the air screaming Trayvon Martin, Trayvon Martin. As the police caught up to Mr. West, he laid facedown on the ground with his arms spread out. The officers resumed beating Mr. West with their batons. As he lay in this position, hitting him everywhere, his body, back, everywhere according to Ms. S. They she said they were just hitting him. According to Ms. S, Mr. West had one cuff on his right hand, but the other was dangling free and the officers did not attempt to link the handcuffs while Mr. West was on the ground and said they continue to beat and hit him with their batons. According to other eye witnesses, Mr. West in an attempt to defend himself tried to get to stand up and to move his arms around in a defensive manner. At this time, other officers began to arrive. Eventually there were about 10 to 25 officers on the scene. Reports indicate that at least seven of the officers, at least seven began to beat Mr. West with their fists and batons, including on his head as he stood with his back against a nearby large SUV. after enduring this brutal assault, Mr. West collapsed on the sidewalk.
And then at least four officers began stomping him with their boots on Mr. West’s upper body while he was laying on his back. Eventually, the officers handcuffed Mr. West. Now police claim that while Mr. West was on his stomach, Officer David Lewis placed his knee on Mr. West back for about a minute. A nearby officer suspected Mr. West had stopped breathing and asked an unidentified officer to help turn over Mr. West’s body. According to police at about the same time, another officer arrived and made efforts to resuscitate Mr. West who was not breathing and did not have a discernible pulse. However, community reports materially conflict with these accounts from the police. Instead, community accounts indicate that officer Lewis stood on Mr. West’s back and neck for over five minutes while Mr. West was restrained on the ground. Officers circled Mr. West to prevent witnesses from observing all of the actions of the police. Paramedics’ testimony indicates that they were not called to the scene for Mr. West, but call to the same for officer Chapman who had sprayed so many chemicals and pepper spray that he got and Mr. Ruiz got pepper spray in their own eyes. Witnesses at the scene indicate that they had to tell paramedics to check on Mr. West. They also said it took 35 to 45 minutes before paramedics got Mr. West in the ambulance and left for the hospital. The family brought suit against several officers, the city and the state of Maryland for violations of 42 USC 1983. for violations of US Constitution and the Maryland constitution. The city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland settled with the family for $1 million.
Tyrone West should be alive today. His killing was inhumane and unconscionable. As you hear the rest of the testimony in this case, you’ll hear familiar things regarding the lack of police accountability, and the resultant impunity officers with multiple complaints of violence against Black people who receive no discipline. The failure on the part of the police to make sure Mr. West received medical aid. The efforts by the state to blame the victim of police violence for his own death and the collusion between the coroner and police in ruling on the cause of death when the police kill. With the commissioners permission, I hope to provide more information on these issues of accountability and impunity after Ms. Jones testifies. Thank you.
Priscilla Ocen 12:13
Thank you, Ms. Gyamfi. We will now, Commissioners Roberts and Uwaifo, I now present to you our next witness, Christopher Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence, please confirm your name.
Christopher Lawrence 12:25
Priscilla Ocen 12:30
Do you promise that your testimony to the Commission of Inquiry will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Christopher Lawrence 12:36
Priscilla Ocen 12:38
Christopher Lawrence 12:39
Good morning, commissioners and thank you for allowing me to speak today. The statistics I will be discussing shortly were obtained from a recent Maryland ACLU report on police violence. We provided a copy of the report to the commissioners earlier this week. Commissioners, there is a clear disparity between how Maryland, the city of Baltimore and its associated police departments treat its white citizens and Black citizens. I want to share a couple statistics which I believe will illustrate this point. In the state of Maryland, Black people make up slightly less than one third of the population. Yet year over year, Black citizens accounted for approximately half of all traffic stops, over half of the jail population and nearly three quarters of the state’s prison population. If you look closer at the City of Baltimore, specifically, Black residents accounted for approximately 63% of Baltimore city’s population. But they account for over 90% of all citizens against whom officers use force. White residents accounted for only 7.3% of the use of force arrests. Between 2010 and 2016 63% of the citizens killed by police in Maryland were Black. This is the second highest percentage of Black killings by police in the United States, second only to Washington, DC.
Some may argue that these uses of force are the result of police officers’ need to protect the community from violent criminals. However, once again, the data demonstrates a contradicting truth. Many of the use of force arrests are for low level nonviolent charges. According to the data compiled by the Maryland ACLU, controlled substance violations and traffic violations accounted for over one quarter of all use of force arrests. But this conduct has not gone unnoticed by the residents of Baltimore, Baltimore. Between 2015 and 2019, the Baltimore Police Department received over 13,000 complaints of misconduct against their officers. And this includes the 18 complaints filed against officer Ruiz in this case. However, despite the large number of complaints, very few of them, which are made by Black residents are actually sustained. Black residents accounted for 73% of all total complaints, but yet only 7% of those complaints are sustained. I believe there is a clear, I believe it is clear that there are two police forces in Baltimore, one for its Black residents and one for its white residents. Thank you for your time.
Priscilla Ocen 15:08
Thank you, Mr. Lawrence, commissioners Roberts and Uwaifo. I present to you our next witness. Jasmine Smith. Miss Smith, can you confirm your name, please?
Jasmine Smith 15:20
Yes, Jasmine Smith.
Priscilla Ocen 15:23
And do you promise that your testimony will be true to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Jasmine Smith 15:28
Priscilla Ocen 15:30
Please proceed with your testimony.
Jasmine Smith 15:33
Good morning. Good afternoon, everyone. And thank you commissioners for allowing me to speak here. today. I’m going to present a bit of background research on corruption within the Baltimore Police Department and some of the plainclothes policing that takes place in the Baltimore Police Department. So at the time Mr. West was killed by Baltimore Police Department, they had a task force called gun trace task force, whose mission was purportedly to take guns off the streets of Baltimore. However, between 2017 and 2019, several members of the task force were tried and convicted of crimes that included racketeering, robbery, extortion, overtime, fraud, and selling drugs during police operations by the Department of Justice. According to a 2021 report by the Maryland American Civil Liberties Union. The leader of this task force, Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, received 227 complaints between 2015 and 2019. Three other members of the task force received between 40 and 47 complaints each between 2015 and 2017. Prior to the indictments, the task force was disbanded. But other plainclothes units have either been permitted to continue functioning, or have been newly created, such as district action teams, an anti crime section, even as there continues to be the same allegations of violence and misconduct, Baltimore Police Department has continued to staff these specialized units with corrupt and violent officers.
Priscilla Ocen 17:11
Thank you very much, Miss Smith. commissioners, our next witness is Ms. Tawanda Jones. Miss Jones, can you confirm your name, please?
Tawanda Jones 17:23
Yes, my name is Tawanda Jones.
Priscilla Ocen 17:26
Thank you. And do you promise that your testimony will be true to you to the best of your knowledge and belief?
Tawanda Jones 17:35
Priscilla Ocen 17:38
Please proceed with your testimony, Ms. Jones.
Tawanda Jones 17:42
Okay, so first of all, I want to thank everybody, thank you so much for making this to lift my brother Tyrone West’s name, as well as his story, his legacy. So my name is Tawanda Jones, I am the sister of Tyrone West. And I just wanted to clear one thing up when Miss Nana had said that my brother was like a community driver. You know, he wasn’t a community drive. I think that was more so the narrative that the police and the media put out because they tried to say that my brother did hacking. Hacking is like, basically illegal cab driver, you don’t have your license, but you just drive, but that wasn’t the case at all. My brother actually worked for a warehouse that basically set up and distribute, distribute. I’m sorry, distribute furniture, office furniture and whatnot. So he was you know, he did that. That was his living and he helped out with my family. It’s just like, I just want to clear that up, but just real quickly. So that day, on July the 18th 2013, it changed my family life forever. Like we never asked to be in this. It literally went from a beautiful day of spending time with my big brother and him watching over my family, him making sure my grandmother that’s at 88 years old now this day, but at the time, you know, eight years ago, she was like 79 or 80 or whatever, but nevertheless, he made sure she exercised. He believed in, you know, just taking care of yourself. And our king was just brutally murdered by seven to 15, you know, killer cops, and I’m gonna call a spade a spade.
And the saddest part that the officer that Miss Nana, basically put out there for weeks, you know, he is a repeat violent offender. Let’s be crystal clear. He worked with the gun trace task force. And to me their job was basically target targeting on Black men and women in the community. And if you had a nice type of car, they would just basically stereotype you with these implicit bias and whatnot, that you’re drummed into that, you know you’re doing something wrong. The only thing my brother was doing that day was giving the lady Ms. S. a ride. She asked for a ride. Literally, he had just worked all day. And he picked me up, I called myself, driving in my vehicle, that I thought was gonna be safe. And he, you know, picked her up. And from that moment he was executed. And I remember the last conversation, me and him had. And it was so touching when I heard Ms. Nana, describing what he said. He was screaming out, Trayvon Martin, help. Just before he pulled off, we had a conversation about George Zimmerman, you know, who murdered unarmed Trayvon Martin, you know, George Zimmerman was to me a vigilante, you know, but nevertheless, you know, that didn’t set well on me and my brother’s heart. You know, that just happened, you know, that, Saturday prior to that Thursday when my brother was executed.
And he said, Sis, we need to worry about all the George Zimmermans in our community. And I never knew what he meant, until, actually, he was hurt. So this is took a toll on my family, because we don’t understand why he was murdered. But as it goes on, I clearly understand, you know, it’s hard with American skin in America, you know, they don’t care about us. Because if you can murder anyone get away with it, get away with taking a precious life, and nobody gets held accountable. That’s a big problem. And that’s what it is, is legalized genocide. This is a history of police. And remember, police were slave catchers. So we want to talk about this whole corrupt system that has us enslaved for nearly 200 thieves, we must think about all the corruption that goes along. It’s not just the only police officers at fault in my brother’s case. We’ve got to talk about the medical examiners offices, who basically literally let my family down. It took them 154 days to put out a partial report, you know, stating that my brother died from a heart, heart attack, dehydration due to the hot weather. What about the armed men and women that beat, stomped, pepper sprayed, tased, kicked, you know, beat him from one street, one side of the street to the next. What about them? Why didn’t they pass out, they are dressed in all this armored gear and everything.
My brother has on a white tank top and a pair of black shorts that came down towards his knees. And the police officers they can’t even lie, right? See, that’s the thing. The dead people can’t speak. But thank God, I am my brother’s keeper number to always speak up not just for my brother Tyrone West, but for all the victims of police brutality. Police terrorism. Let’s be crystal clear. You know, this has been going on way too much. For me literally to see families such as Tamir Rice’s mother, a little baby, you know, boy playing in a playground gunned down in seconds, literally, one second, and nobody be held accountable. You know, why my case? Should I believe in my brother, you know, an unarmed man who wasn’t doing nothing. I will I, in my mind, believe that these officers gonna be held accountable. There were videos, but to this day, through different deposition positions, we have never obtained any of the video footage. Also, just to kind of backslide, I wanted to say that, you know, just looking at the medical examiners office, before how they basically, you know, made it seem like my brother was unhealthy and died, it took them 154 days. And their timing is immaculate, because they waited right before Christmas, when nobody’s watching the news type of thing to break my family how they broke up. And like December the 22nd, stuff like that. People are getting ready for holiday shopping, things like that. They know exactly what they doing. It don’t take anyone 154 days to do anything. And I also want to just talk about major things that why we don’t think some people don’t get held accountable.
Let’s talk about the Officers’ Bill of Rights, that’s the label, and it was established in 1974. And basically what happens is a security blanket, where so, these officers, they don’t get interrogated as if you and I was to murder someone, they get an interview, and they get an interview with the attorney literally 30 days later. And then a crazy part, they try to make it seem like, you know, they’re trying to do something about this Officer Bill of Rights because they knock it down, it used to be 10 days before they get to give their statement or whatever. But then they knocked it down to five. They need to get rid of it completely. They need to get rid of all these racist things that uplift this racist system. And it’s an easy fix, put all these killer cops in a cell block. We could talk about reform. We could talk about this and that all day long. But the biggest thing is holding these killer cops accountable. And it’s just sad like you have a bunch of people a bunch of corruption in the medical examiner’s office. You have attorneys and then the sad part, for the police officers to lie and say, Oh, it was a fight initiated when my brother sat down on a curb and they notice a ball in his pants leg, like yeah, he had on ankle socks, let’s be crystal clear. And then out the killer’s mouth to the deposition, we said when he was sworn in on the testimony, actually to give true facts. Where did you see the drugs? He said that I never saw the drugs. I heard about it. And like, are you freaking kidding me? And then they never tested any drugs nor submitted. You have Ruiz and Chapman, the first two that started this brutal heinous murder, beat my brother to death. Literally, I can imagine how he suffered. Like, I try to mild it down for my family, but we don’t have to breathe, you know, different shapes. We started something, literally because you’re not going to kill my brother and walk away. Heck, no, you’re not going to do that.
So we started something initially, immediately, outside, called West Wednesdays. So for now for 392 weeks, 2747 days, I literally count down every single day. Like you’re not going to get away with murdering my brother. And the fact that we still working with promotions, like he was promoted to sergeant, you were both promoted for what? We’re actually doing working, like really trying to be a difference maker, through all our hurt and pain. I put my grief up on the shelf, literally. And last week, my cousin just was murdered. One of the men that stood on the front lines with me, screaming that my brother Tyrone West’s life mattered. My cousin Titan T-Bone Anderson, he was brutally gunned down. And we have a serial killer. And nobody has solved this crime yet. And I feel like everybody is a suspect, including Ruiz, because interesting, let’s be clear. The night my cousin was murdered, be clear, I was talking about that report that the brother talked about, the ACLU. They came down all the complaints. They interviewed me. I was talking to them about Ruiz, and I didn’t — I learned that there were 18 additional complaints. I only knew about the six including the brutal murder of my brother. And what about the men and women that are too afraid to go down and trust officers, trust officers to take their report?
We know that they all work together like what … literally, he still don’t want the rounds of doing things from 2015 to 2020. You didn’t you didn’t even stop at the murder of my brother, you had a record leading up to the brutal murder of one unarmed man, Tyrone West, but the fact that that didn’t slow you down. He’s a ticking time bomb. But again, until we hold these ticking time bombs accountable, no one is safe. No one is safe. And until we hold Ruiz accountable. We’re gonna keep we’re having brutal murders, all type of stuff. And don’t want to say. And for David Lewis, the officer from Morgan State University, a 320 pound officer, as my brother was hog tied in a part tied position laying facedown on the ground, screaming for his life, gasping like a fish, witnesses said. He decided he wanted to put his knee on my brother’s back and one foot on his neck. Until my brother was dead, for five minutes.. You beat an unarmed man, 11 to 15 officers for 18 minutes, and then you let a 320 pound man finish him off. Shame on the city. But that’s not the crazy part. This is not a city thing. This is a worldwide thing. It’s called legalized genocide. Until we hold these killer cops, have placed them in a cell block. We can have laws and testimonies in the world. That’s not going to bring our loved ones back. I’m definitely, I don’t care if it takes another eight years, 20 years from now, I’m never going to stop until these killer cops be held accountable. And we don’t get things like in my city, we did sponsor something called the gag order bill. Basically, perhaps they mentioned the settlement that my family received. But unfortunately, I have to take my name. Because you’re not going to craft my language and stop me from talking about my brother. I’m going to keep talking about my brother, and making sure that my brother’s children, my beautiful niece and nephews and his grandchildren, he never got a chance to meet.
I want to make sure that my whole family knows that I love and care about Tyrone West, Tyrone West’s life, and they love and care about him so much. But they’re still traumatized. And they can’t fight like I can fight, this is too traumatizing. But as long as I have breath in my body, I’m going to do what’s right. But like I said, we changed the law about the gag order. That went into effect in 2020. And unfortunately, at the time, we had a man named Jack, he decided not to even sign the gag order, but he did do it. So when it took off, 2020 with this, people can actually talk about their case without the money being an issue and without it being took back. So we did that. And then as far as the state’s attorney, we had a state’s attorney at the time, Greg Bernstein, who decided to not do anything. And I said, you know what, the same way you sat in my family’s face and you laugh, and you said this is good for litigation. And I’m thinking about who gives a damn about some money. You couldn’t write a check fat enough to cover up your bloody murder. You put, I don’t care if you gave us all the money in the world, it would not be equivalent to my brother’s life for any of these brothers and sisters, and mothers and daughters around the world.
So I said all that to say, we did that and we got Greg Bernstein kicked out of office. We told nobody never to vote for him. I literally every time he was campaigning, trying to get back in office, we shut Greg Bernstein out. And unfortunately, I feel ashamed because I actually pumped up Marilyn Mosley who’s our state’s attorney, I actually pushed this woman into office, stood beside her, for her to turn her. for her to turn her back on my family and disrespect me in such a way is unspeakable. Like before you got in the office, you promised me and I’m not asking you to break the law. I’m not asking you to bend any rules. I’m asking you to be fair, transparent, and hold these killer cops in the cell block, we know that there’s no statute of limitations on murder. All you have to do was all the witnesses, what are you waiting for all the witnesses to die off? Like, that’s what you’re doing? Just like, um, one of our brothers said, injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere. And when you delay or deny accountability, it straggles on,, and nobody gets held accountable. But I am going to say, we are more than hashtags and body bags. We’re more than being six feet in the dirt and pictures on buttons and T-shirts. Our lives matter. Thank you.
Priscilla Ocen 31:24
Thank you. Commissioners, we’re at about — thank you very much Ms. Jones for your powerful testimony. And we want to extend our deepest condolences for the loss of your brother. And we stand with you and your demand for accountability. And we hope that these hearings will push us further toward that direction. Commissioners, as I said, we have about, we’re at about 10:34. So we have about 15 to 20 minutes left in the hearing. Ms. Gyamfi, I know that you wanted to say a few words, do you still wish to speak? Or would you like to go into question and answer?
Nana Gyamfi 32:00
I’d like to say just a few – can you hear me?
Priscilla Ocen 32:06
Go ahead? Yes, go ahead.
Nana Gyamfi 32:08
I’d like to say just a few words. And thank you again, so much Ms. Jones, for your testimony and in terms of the impact in your family and the things that your family has done to push back and get accountability. Just wanted to point out four pieces of, four issues of accountability and impunity that come out in this case that I think are really important. One being, of course, the history of complaints and violence and corruption that remains unabated in Baltimore and in Maryland, as was brought up earlier, Officer Bernandez Ruiz has had himself 18 complaints. And these are people who were brave enough to come forward. And yet there was no discipline. In fact, he was promoted to sergeant. And when this complaint was filed, on behalf of Mr. West, in the civil lawsuit, some of the allegations about prior acts by and prior complaints against Mr. Ruiz were included in the lawsuit. With the end it was it was made clear that the city had evidence there was internal affairs, complaints that were made, and the families never told about what happens with internal affairs. That is a problem not just in Baltimore, Maryland. But all over the country where complaints against police officers are considered personnel matters. They’re considered employment matters, and not the public safety matters that they actually are, that needs to change.
Also looking at the lack of medical assistance, this has been a recurring theme, not just in the hearings that we’ve had here in the commission, but also in general in this type of these cases and this type of litigation, where we find again and again, that witnesses say victims are left to die, that the police are treated by medical assistance before the victims and in this case, the only reason the ambulance was even dispatched was because of a call about an injured officer. And so I think that’s an important part, a point to make. And that comes out in this case, the blaming of the victim for his own death at the hands of police. As Miss Jones pointed out, Mr. West had a clean bill of health. He was in good physical shape. And an interesting piece that Miss Jones didn’t go into but I think it’s really important is that Miss Jones ended up getting a private medical exam. So the examiner in Maryland, determined that he couldn’t figure out what the cause of death was, and that there was something related to Mr. West having a heart attack, or having some heart problem and dehydration as a result of the restraint. Miss Jones looked at an Asana article in which a mother had gone back and examined the body of her daughter in order to prove that her daughter was in fact killed. And upon seeing that article, Miss Jones made the determination that she would do the same thing for her brother. Even though it was years later, she took $50,000 out of her own money, her own money, which she had to pull together, by hook and crook.
Miss Jones is not living and drowning in money. She took $50,000 out of her own money, and she got a independent coroner in Texas, flew the body, her brother’s body to Texas to get that report. And that report showed that in fact, the police were responsible, that Mr. West did not die because he was in poor physical health. And it’s as a result of that report that the city and the state actually made the offer, because at that point, it was clear that they were not going to be able to get away with saying that this was Mr. West’s fault. Another piece that I’d like to bring up with respect to the coroner, the coroner allowed the officer, the officers to be in the room when the autopsy was done. In fact, the detective spoke to Miss Jones and told her before the autopsy even happened, you know, what the coroner is going to find out, that he had a heart problem and probably was dehydrated. And lo and behold, the coroner found out, quote, unquote, that he had a heart problem, and was more than likely dehydrated. And what was so unsettling to find out is that that is perfectly legal in Maryland, and in so many other states to have officers there present at the autopsy, even as the the autopsy is determining whether or not the police are the ones that killed the person.
So it’s not surprising that it came to that conclusion. And we need to look into the cozy relationship between coroners and police, particularly when those coroners are doing autopsies in these types of cases. And then finally, I’d like to talk about the issue of the gun trace task force. The gun trace Task Force is the type of specialized unit that was created. And as part of the war on drugs, that it was alleged to be happening across this country, which we know was really a war on Black people. And those types of Task Force exists from coast to coast and all areas in between. And in spite of the complaints that happen again and again, that are levied against these Task Force officers, these task forces continue to promulgate. So I wanted to just make sure to raise up those issues, some of which you heard earlier, but some of which you did not have the opportunity to hear. Thank you.
Priscilla Ocen 38:19
Thank you, commissioners, we have about 10 minutes remaining. So I’ll turn it over to you to ask any questions that you may have for our witnesses.
Sir Clare Roberts 38:32
Ms. Jones, I would like to join with Professor Ocen in offering you my deep, deepest sympathy on the awful killing of your brother. I wanted also to commend you on your on your fight and your persistence and bravery, and carrying on this fight for justice for your brother, but racial justice, to bring an end to these police killings of Black people in the United States of America. I was struck by your testimony that the ticking time bombs in the force, as you put it, in the police force. And until these are eradicated, you will still have these killings by policemen. I wanted to ask you what how can one stop this cozy relationship between prosecutors and medical examiners and the police department? That’s one of my questions. How can you get, have more independence of each of these Important mechanisms in bringing about accountability. The other question I wanted to ask was, how can a police officer like Ruiz with all these complaints of violence continue in the force and is promoted? So what is it in the system that is not being done? Or is being done that can condone this sort of behavior? Why isn’t he fired? Why isn’t there somebody some complaint review body that can stop him? Somewhere along the line? So those are my two key questions. You don’t have a lot of time. So I’ll stop there.
Priscilla Ocen 40:58
Ms. Jones, feel free to respond and Ms. Gyamfi, if you want to add anything?
Tawanda Jones 41:07
Yes, thank you. And thank you, Nana, first of all, for presenting those facts. It is so much, but I definitely thank you for presenting those other facts that I didn’t bring up so much. I got a whole bookcase. Right. But anyway, those were great questions. So to me, like, until you have like a real, a real civilian review board that consists of people such as myself, like, not ran by the police, that can actually look into this and set on a board aside and say, you know, what, … Ruiz. And by the way, Ruiz just married a state prosecutor named Michelle, bam, they’re all in bed together, they need to get out of bed together. That’s what they need to do first. But nevertheless, um, you know, once we see that type of stuff, it should be enough to have a real civilian Review Board to say, you know, what, that’s not right, and whatever our side has ordered, let it not be watered down because we had the city solicitor, Andre Davis, I call this guy the Wizard of Oz, but people watered down everything, like he would silenced them when they would be on the right path. So if we were able to have our voices heard to actually hold these killer cops in the cell blocks, like, that’s the only choice. And to me the system is doing what it’s designed to do. Unfortunately, you know, we were, you know, slaves. We were slaves! And police officers, the origin of policemen, they were slave catchers, you get what I’m saying. And they’re still basically living that same kind of way. And I urge everybody to grow up quick, to look up the casual killing act. And they basically talked about when you know, the slave owners would say that slaves were resistant, they can actually kill them. That’s the same thing these killer cops are doing. So thank you. Great question.
Nana Gyamfi 42:46
On the first issue, and thank you, Ms. Jones, and thank you, Commissioner for the question. On the first issue, there has to be and and we see these efforts in terms of criminal justice reform in various cities. But there has to be a way in which the, when the police kill, that the public coroner is not the one that does the investigation, there needs to be an independent investigation that is done outside of that jurisdiction. And that, but the investigation still needs to be paid for by the state, right, or by some other means, because what happens is in Ms. Jones case, she had to pull from here and there to be able to get the funds to be able to do this, often it doesn’t happen. And you’ll see people doing GoFundMe, or other crowdsourcing ways of getting money in order to cover the cost of independent investigation, because it’s common knowledge to those of us that do this work, whether it’s as organizers or as attorneys, which I happen to be both. It’s common knowledge that, hey, these cases, if you don’t have a private coroner, you may not get to the root of really what has happened. And so that needs to occur.
And there are many that have argued in, that are not necessarily abolitionists, which I happen to be one but outside of abolition and really getting rid of police altogether. There are some who have argued that we should have independent prosecutors that are dealing with the police that are in police cases, in which they are in which police are accused of murdering citizens. And so it shouldn’t be something that the regular prosecutors that need their assistance in order to pursue cases, they should not be the ones also looking into the police. And those are just a couple of the ideas that people have come up with and tried to implement with respect to breaking up some of this cozy relationship.
Priscilla Ocen 44:45
Thank you. And we have about four more minutes. So we I think that means we have enough time for about one more question and very brief responses. So, Commissioner Uwaifo, would you like to ask a question?
Hannibal Uwaifo 45:02
Yes. Thank you very much. I joined with Commissioner Clare and the inquiry commissioners across the board to, to sympathize with you. But I’m worried attorney Nana and Christopher. We have the probably, from what I hear, Icome from what they call developing country, Nigeria. You know, we have all heard about the best human rights organizations coming from the United States, the best court decisions, and we come by, it’s like an octopus all over the world and all that. Now, here we are. Fraudulent autopsy reports, fraudulent police investigations, we have the police who refuse to aid victims, you know, even when they are the brutalizers who are killing the victims. And they also block citizens from coming to the aid of those victims they are brutalized, or they are about to murder. And then we have all these kinds of chaotic situations that we’ve seen throughout this inquiry. Now, my question is, this American Bar Association, the state bars, these so called human rights organizations that are all over the United States, that are all over the world, all over the place. Are they not able, can they not see, or are they not able to come together to put an end to this rather seeming chaotic injustice. I’m just a bit worried. Because if you cannot heal yourself in the United States, I wonder, you know why it is? It is so important that issue in so many parts of the world, with the kinds of quality of arguments and quality of literature, you bring to the puzzle, I just want to know, what is the problem, the dead cannot talk? The judges admit to the lawyers. Now judges give fraudulent judgments, from what I see damage on this judgment against citizens they are meant to protect. So what’s the what are the status of the organizations? What are they doing? I’m sorry, I just thought the last you may be able to give us some insight into this. Thank you,
Priscilla Ocen 47:19
I think probably the best person to answer that would be attorney Gyamfi.
Nana Gyamfi 47:23
Yeah, thank you. And I’ll answer as quickly as I can, because I know that we are running out of time. This what we’re doing here with this commission, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, the National Lawyers Guild, this is a big piece of what the lawyers are doing, what the state bars are doing. This is an example of something that we’re attempting to, that we’re doing to bring light to what is going, on to have the commissioners, you listen to the families and to attorneys about what is happening to get this report together. And with the assistance of the rapportetours and commissioners, and to make sure that the UN not only looks at this issue, but that they also take up this charge, specifically looking at what is happening to people of African descent in the United States. There’s a lot of organizing that is going on here with some of the very organizations Commissioner Uwaifo that you refer to that are coming together along with organizers on the ground, activists on the ground, people in Black Lives Matter. People like Colette Flanagan, with Mothers Against Police Brutality, there are many who are actually doing the work in connection with other bar associations, such as the National Conference of Black Lawyers to push back in the very cities that things are happening, that in the very states where we see these problems occurring, but certainly, certainly, we are looking forward to the report, to the recommendations, to the findings and conclusions that come out of this commission as a major historic piece, as a major movement piece, and as a major proactive action that is going to allow that and force the United States to address this issue at this critical time. So thank you for that question.
Priscilla Ocen 49:24
Thank you very much, Ms. Gyamfi, for that response. And I think unfortunately, that will have to be our last question as we’re out of time. So this will conclude the hearing in the case of Tyrone West, I want to extend our deepest gratitude and condolences to Ms. Jones who joined us today. And our other witnesses Ms. Gyamfi, Mr. Lawrence Ms. Smith, thank you for for your testimony. We will now have a short break for about eight minutes, which we’ll resume at 8am Pacific, 11am. Eastern. So again, thank you all for attending. This will conclude the hearing in the matter of the death, of the murder, of Tyrone West.