Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said Wednesday that he plans to form a commission of experts outside the city department to review the death of Tyrone West, a move denounced by the head of the city's police union as "a way to placate the public" while undermining confidence in his officers' investigations.
Batts spoke at a City Council hearing called weeks ago to probe delays in the release of autopsy findings in the July death of West, a 44-year-old man who police say died after fighting officers during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore.
The pledge came on the heels of the release Tuesday of findings from an outside panel on the September 2012 death of Anthony Anderson, whose spleen ruptured after officers took him to the ground during an arrest.
That commission backed the police investigation, but also made recommendations for how the agency can better track incidents in which officers use force.
Batts said the outside reviews, on top of police invesigtations, show that the department wants to be transparent and provide closure to families.
"We must evaluate and look at ways to improve our organization on a continual basis," Batts told city council members.
Robert Cherry, the president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said Batts should stand behind the department's investigations.
"Just because people assume police did something wrong, it's not always the case, and we don't always need to go to a commission to validate our findings," he said. City prosecutors last year cleared the officers in the Anderson case of criminal wrongdoing.
The outside officials who reviewed the Anderson case, which included the chief of police for the University of Maryland and a top prosecutor in Cecil County, looked at paperwork but did not interview witnesses, Cherry noted.
The medical examiner's office declined an invitation attend the council hearing, but prosecutors on Tuesday released West's cause of death: a combination of a heart condition and dehydration, complicated by West being restrained by officers. The criminal investigation is continuing, officials said.
Witnesses claim West was beaten by the officers. His family was adamant at Wednesday's hearing that they hold police responsible for the death.
Batts said police need to improve communication with families during investigations. He said a top commander reaches out to the West family regularly.
West's sister, Tawanda Jones, spoke later and rejected those efforts.
"We don't need someone to call and say, 'How's your day?'" Jones said. "My day will never be the same. … Give us justice. That's what we deserve."Copyright © 2015, CT Now