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$1M settlement planned for family of Tyrone West

Baltimore officials said Wednesday they plan to pay the family of Tyrone West $600,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit alleging police misconduct and excessive force. The announcement comes as state officials approved paying $400,000 to settle their share of the suit.

The combined $1 million is to settle a suit filed after West died in 2013 during an altercation with police at a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore.

The family’s attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said the money would go to West’s three children — Nashay West, Tyrone West Jr. and a minor child — and lawyers’ fees.

Interim Baltimore Solicitor David Ralph said the city had been fighting the federal lawsuit in court, winning some motions but losing others.

“We consider the facts and the evidence we think we can prove,” Ralph said. “We considered the risk to the city and the family’s interest. Both parties decided it was the reasonable and wise thing to do given the uncertainties of cases. … This is the family’s idea of what justice means to them.”

Ralph said he intended to bring the proposed $600,000 settlement to the city’s Board of Estimates in August. The city’s spending panel is controlled by Mayor Catherine Pugh, who expressed sympathy for West’s family.

“I don’t think any amount of money can replace anyone. I don’t think there’s any kind of solace in any settlement,” she said.

Meanwhile, the state’s Board of Public Works, which includes Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp, approved the state portion of the settlement Wednesday.

West’s death was one of a series of a high-profile incidents in which family members and activists alleged wrongdoing by Baltimore police.

West’s family and his supporters, including his sister Tawanda Jones, have held weekly vigils — dubbed “West Wednesdays” — for 208 straight weeks since his death in an effort to raise awareness about the case, and made it a staple in the local conversation around police brutality. When national media descended on Baltimore following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, West’s case was featured in many news stories.

Gray’s family settled for $6.4 million after his death from injuries sustained in the back of a police van.

Jones is no longer listed as the representative of the estate and told the Sun Tuesday night that she did not want to settle the case. She said she plans to hold a press conference Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Greenmount Avenue and 33rd Street.

Pettit said Jones has been removed from the case as not to jeopardize the payment to West’s children. Plaintiffs in city settlements are often prohibited from disparaging the city as part of the agreements. “We didn’t want to run afoul of that,” Pettit said. West died on July 18, 2013, during a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. Police and witnesses said he fought with officers. West's family says officers beat him to death. The medical examiner's office ruled that he died because he had a heart condition that was exacerbated by the struggle with police and the summer heat.

One witness told investigators that police officers pulled West out of his car "by his dreads and started beating him and maced him, he got up and called for help and the cops knocked him over and beat him to death, then tried to bring him back."

Officers acknowledged punching West, striking him with batons and spraying him with pepper spray, but a review panel determined that officers did not use excessive force.

No officers were charged in West's death, but the review panel said police did not follow basic policies and made tactical errors that "potentially aggravated the situation."

Gregg L. Bernstein, Baltimore’s state’s attorney at the time, said the officers involved in the case had used "objectively reasonable force."

The case played a role in Marilyn Mosby's successful challenge to Bernstein in the 2014 Democratic primary. Mosby criticized the way Bernstein handled the case for a lack of "transparency," but declined to reopen it after she was elected state's attorney.

A autopsy review commissioned by West’s family came to the conclusion that he died of “positional asphyxiation” while being restrained. Dr. Adel Shaker, a former medical examiner in Alabama and Mississippi, said West “was not able to breathe during restraint process when he was held own by police officers sitting on him.”

Then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts ordered an independent review of the case, which in August 2014 determined the officers involved did not use excessive force but made tactical errors that "potentially aggravated the situation" and did not follow basic policies.

The civil lawsuit, filed in June 2014, was slated to go to trial earlier this month, but was pushed back to the fall.

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