An Open Letter to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby
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An Open Letter to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby

Tyrone West's case needs to be reopened.

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An Open Letter to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby
Sameer Rao

To State’s Attorney Mosby,

I am writing to you about an issue which has become increasingly important to me: Tyrone West and the injustice inflicted upon him and his family. As you know, Tyrone West was brutally beaten and killed by Baltimore City police officers during a traffic stop on July 18, 2013. His sister Tawanda Jones has been leading demonstrations every single week since, advocating to have his case reopened to bring these officers to justice.

I have attended West Wednesdays and have interviewed Tawanda. The heartbreak she is facing daily as a result of the tragedy her brother suffered is devastating to witness. Last year you said that you wouldn’t reopen West’s case because there was no new evidence or information. However, there is now new information as a result of the independent autopsy report that was submitted to the court in November. This autopsy report revealed what the family suspected to be true: that Tyrone West died of positional asphyxia. Tyrone West was suffocated to death by police officers, and to pretend otherwise is, quite frankly, abhorrent. These police officers need to be held accountable, because this is not an isolated incident – Abdul Salaam won a civil case against two plainclothes officers for brutally beating him just two weeks before they killed West. We know that plainclothes police officers do not have a reputation (even among the BPD) for being trustworthy, as the practice was effectively abolished in March by Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis after federal indictments of seven plainclothes officers. Additionally, just this week the Associated Press reported that the Baltimore Police Department has been unable to produce any evidence of the drugs they claim to have recovered from Tyrone West at the time of his arrest. This is significant enough information to warrant reopening his case.

I understand that cases of police brutality may be a particularly difficult subject for you, considering your career is so linked to your prosecution of the officers who killed Freddie Gray, and the subsequent trials. I want to applaud you for taking the risk of filing criminal charges against these officers, even if the case was lost in court and you are now facing a lawsuit from some of the officers involved. It was an important step to take these officers to court in the first place, and I hope that, if nothing else, it served as a learning experience which prepares you even better to hold police officers accountable in the future.

You are most likely seeking re-election in 2018, and it may appear too risky to reopen another case involving police brutality. However, this hesitancy cannot get in the way of promoting justice in Baltimore City. You do not get to abstain from doing your job for fear of losing it.

When you announced the dismissal of the remaining police officer’s charges in the Freddie Gray trials, you said: “Without real, substantive reforms, we could try this case 100 times, and cases just like it, and still wind up with the same result.”

I hear your frustration. A truly just system wouldn’t require you to prosecute these officers whatsoever, because all cases of potential police killings would automatically require any prosecutions or investigations to come from an independent source. It is a rather difficult job for the city State’s Attorney to prosecute these officers when the police system is your closest professional ally.

However, this is the system we have in place, and until it changes we have to work within it. Perhaps my youth is to blame, but I happen to believe that there is at least a chance this case could turn out differently. Certainly it deserves that chance. Reopening Tyrone West’s case would demonstrate an ongoing commitment to applying justice fairly and equally in Baltimore City. Without this demonstration, it will be difficult for me to cast a vote for your re-election in 2018. I know the same is true for many others.

When you stood on the steps of the War Memorial and announced that you were filling criminal charges against those six police officers who killed Freddie Gray, you became a hero in Baltimore. You proved that public officials can do not only what is in their best political interest, but what is right.

Be that hero again, Madame Mosby. Reopen this case.

Sincerely,

Sheridan Merrick

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