Who was Tyrone West?

Tyrone was a hardworking 44 year old man who loved his family. He was the oldest of his grandmother’s grandchildren and checked in on her daily; taking care that she ate well and got her exercise. He took on a caregiving and protective role for all of his relatives; being both a beloved brother and parental figure to his sister Tawanda, in particular. He was a single father of three children and he loved being a father. He learned that he was going to be a grandfather for the second time shortly before he died and was excited to meet this new grandchild.

    At the time of his death Tyrone was working full time for an office supply warehouse. In addition to that,  he worked with his uncle doing home improvement jobs. Tyrone was a talented visual artist, able to draw and paint life-like pictures of family and famous people. His family and friends still treasure his paintings and drawings.

What happened?

On July 18, 2013  two plain-clothes officers in an unmarked car pulled Tyrone over in a residential neighborhood for an alleged minor traffic infraction. Witness statements indicated that he was pulled out of his car and attacked by the police.

The two officers, Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz and Nicholas Chapman, stopped him and exited their car with guns drawn. He put his hands out the window to show them he had nothing in them but the officers pulled him out of the car by his dreadlocks. They sprayed him directly in the face with pepper spray. When Tyrone asked them why they were doing this Officer Chapman was heard to say “This is what we do to N*****s” He tried to run and they chased, tackled, beat, kicked and stomped him. More officers responded after one of the two who stopped Tyrone (Chapman) reportedly issued a “signal 13” after he sprayed so much pepper spray (2 canisters) at Tyrone that some got in his own eyes and he requested backup for medical attention.

When the other officers arrived they joined in the beating of Tyrone. Most recent information indicates there were at least 17 officers at the scene. They “hog tied” him with his hands and feet tied meeting at the middle of his back with his face down. Then a 320lb Morgan State University officer named David Lewis knelt on his neck/back until he was unresponsive.

A number of residents and witnesses in the neighborhood where this happened tried to intervene and were told by one of the officers ( Bernardez-Ruiz) to “back the fuck up” and go into their houses or the same thing would happen to them.

Police claimed that Tyrone was combative, tried to run,  and that they saw drugs in his sock when his pants pulled up. Tyrone was unarmed and clearly outnumbered by the police. He was wearing shorts and ankle socks. No drugs were ever found, photographed, or submitted into evidence that night. When questioned later officers Chapman and Ruiz said they heard about drugs on the news.

There were many people who lived in this residential neighborhood that came out and were witnesses, as well as a young woman who Tyrone was giving a ride home to. The police reportedly discredited and never took statements from 32 witnesses, taking statements from less than a dozen of those present.

What was the response of the criminal Justice system?

None of the officers were ever charged with a crime. The States Attorney at the time, Gregg Bernstein, told the family soon after that he would not charge any of the officers, suggesting that they could pursue civil charges if they wanted to. He told the family that Tyrone’s only injury was an abrasion. Detectives asked the family about Tyrone’s alleged medical condition before the autopsy was even completed. They specifically questioned whether he had a heart condition, was easily dehydrated, etc. Tyrone was in good health, had recently been to his doctor, and had no heart condition. 

The Baltimore City Medical Examiner’s office wouldn’t let the funeral home retrieve Tyrone’s body for 5 days (much longer than usual) and never submitted any pictures as part of the autopsy. There was an officer guarding the body when it was released to the funeral home, and the family has information that would indicate much more than a single abrasion was found on his body. The family didn’t receive the autopsy for 154 days. It indicated that the cause of death was “cardiac arrhythmia “ due to a cardiac abnormality complicated by dehydration during restraint. The Chief Medical Examiner at the time of Tyrone’s autopsy was David Fowler who testified for Derrick Chauvin,  the officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd. The Maryland Attorney General’s Office is in the process of designing an audit of autopsies conducted under David Fowler’s tenure.

Two other independent medical examiners; one hired by the family after they paid to have his body exhumed, agreed that Tyrone died as a result of “Positional Asphyxia” which means that he was positioned in such a way that he could not breathe. There is clear evidence of excessive force and an unjustified killing. Yet even when this information was released, our current States Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, has not reopened the case.

Civil Case:

The family of Tyrone West filed a lawsuit against Baltimore City and the State of Maryland.

The City Solicitor tried to get Tawanda Jones and the family to sign a non-disparagement agreement before settlement and she refused. She fully withdrew herself from the civil suit so his children could receive some compensation; and so she could keep speaking out and not be under any gag order.

Who has been impacted by his murder by police?

The murder of Tyrone West by the police has impacted everyone in his family from his grandmother to his grandchildren who will never know him. The emotional trauma around his murder and the lack of closure or accountability of any kind has impacted family members’ mental and physical health, employment, freedom, and feelings of safety and security in their daily lives. 

Tyrone was the first grandchild in the family; he was loved and looked up to. His family pulled together to protest the lack of response and accountability; and over the years this has taken an emotional and physical toll on many members. Family members are understandably afraid of the police and at times have felt harassed by them. His second grandchild was born prematurely due to the stress his daughter was suffering. His children and grandchildren loved him dearly, and have been deprived of his care and attention. Older relatives have suffered stress related illnesses. The uncle Tyrone used to work with recently died of cancer, regretting at the end that he was never able to see accountability or justice for his beloved nephew. His grandmother often asked why they did this to him. She passed away in 2021 at age 87, without seeing any accountability for her first grandchild. A close cousin of his who was involved in protests, was the victim of a suspicious murder and never got to see accountability. Holidays continue to be especially hard for his family as Tyrone loved holidays and was always front and center during the celebrations. There continue to be tears and sadness during these times that should be joyful. The family has yet to have any answers that make sense.The pain of his loss and the senseless and brutal way in which it happened, will live on in this family for generations to come.

Tawanda Jones, Tyrone’s younger sister, was the last family member to see Tyrone alive and says that she still blames herself for letting him borrow her car that day. She used money she had saved for her children’s education to have Tyrone’s body exhumed and for the second autopsy. Hopefully healing will truly begin when there is accountability for her brother’s murder. She says: “ You think you’ve cried your last tears. No matter how long, it keeps coming back. He meant nothing to those animals who killed him but he meant everything to his family”.

What is West Wednesdays?

Since the murder of Tyrone West, his family and community supporters led by his sister, Tawanda Jones, have held weekly “West Wednesday” protests calling for accountability for Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality. We have been doing this weekly for almost 9 years. These protests happened on the streets of Baltimore until the Covid pandemic when the West Coalition worked together to continue weekly protests online. Tawanda continues to speak out on many forums, and support legislation aimed at providing accountability for victims of police brutality. One of the things she often says is “Can’t Stop , Won’t stop, until killer cops are in cell blocks”.

What is the West Coalition?

The West Coalition is a collaborative group of people working for accountability for Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality. We welcome all regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, or background. We don’t affiliate with any particular political party, religion, or philosophy. Our members are committed solely to working to end police brutality and change the systems that support it.  Any statements, opinions, or beliefs expressed by guests and/or participants are solely their own and are not expressly those of the West Coalition.