Kim Chase, a 52-year-old African-American woman, died on April 20 after collapsing in the Southwest District precinct, where she was brought by officers.
Chase is the second person to die after being hauled into the Southwest in the last three years. In 2014, Tyree Woodson died after officers said he shot himself with a gun he smuggled into the station. Like the death of Woodson, Chase's death raises a number of questions about the practice of bringing detainees to be questioned, or debriefed, in station houses that do not have the kind of protocols and oversight of Central Booking.
"There was no use of force in this case, but just because there was no use of force doesn't mean that I don't have other questions about the entire incident, from A to Z," Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said in a press conference after Chase's collapse but before her death.
Before officers took Chase to the precinct, they let her stop at her home. Davis raised the possibility that it was an act of "humanism" to "allow someone under arrest, someone who you know who is being charged with a failure to appear on an arrest warrant in Southern Maryland" on non-violent charges to retrieve personal effects while awaiting the police transport van.
The vans, Davis pointed out, are equipped with cameras following the death of Freddie Gray. But most of the rooms at a station house are not, and it is often unclear what happens there. And because detectives bring suspects to a station house in the hopes of gaining information, it is often unclear whether or not the person being detained is under arrest or simply being questioned.
When a Warrant Apprehension Task Force (WATF) picked up Tyree Woodson as he left his mother's house on the way to visit his parole office on Aug. 5, 2014, even the various officers involved in the case weren't sure of his status: Was Woodson under arrest? Was Woodson being held for questioning in a case in which he was the victim? Or was he being held for questioning in a case in which he was a suspect?
Meanwhile, Woodson's mother's house was being searched. Woodson had been shot in the foot some days earlier and the police wanted him to ID his shooter—but they had also come to believe that he shot someone in retaliation and were going to search the house for the gun.
According to the Force Incident Team (FIT) report, "Sergeant [Sterling] Price [of WATF] told Mr. Woodson he was being detained for an investigation in Southwest Baltimore. Sergeant Price also stated they told Mr. Woodson he was being detained in relation to his shooting and he was never told he was under arrest."
But one of the detectives investigating the cases, Jeffrey Converse, told investigators he believed "Woodson knew he was under arrest prior to the interview because Mr. Woodson was taken into custody by WATF."
Earl Thompson, another WATF detective, told investigators that he thoroughly searched Woodson.
"Detective Thompson noticed Mr. Woodson was wearing a medical boot, so he tapped the boot without go [sic] inside to prevent causing further injury to Mr. Woodson's wound," the FIT incident report read—without raising the point that it is clear from crime-scene photos that Woodson was not in fact wearing a medical boot of the variety that was shown on local news at the time of the incident—a tall plastic thing—but rather a low-top hospital shoe that slipped over a thick sock.
Later, police would claim he snuck a gun into the station in that shoe.
There is a document that seems to indicate Woodson was mirandized—but, although it has his signature, it has no date or time or any of the other information that is supposed to be filled out.
Police tried to get Woodson to name the person that shot him and his girlfriend about a week earlier. According to police documents obtained through a public information request, detectives Converse and Matthew Pow said he fingered the person who shot him and confessed to shooting him back. They say he confessed to being a member of the Black Guerrilla Family gang and that he said he was scared.
None of it was recorded—although the department's general orders on debriefing interviews make clear that all interviews should be recorded.
Converse and Pow told investigators that they let Woodson go outside to smoke a cigarette after he ID'd the shooter. Both of them later said they noticed that it was weird that he pulled out a cigarette and a lighter, but they didn't think anything of it.
If he had been searched, he should not have had cigarettes, much less a lighter, on his person.
The detectives said they let him call his girlfriend with his cell phone, which also had not been confiscated when he was brought into custody.
And then Detective Pow led him to the bathroom. Pow told investigators that he watched Woodson enter a stall and stood by a window. Then he heard a shot.
A short time later, Officer Dale Mattingly came into the bathroom, secured the scene, and emptied Woodson's pockets, finding money and a knife in addition to cigarettes and the lighter. Mattingly wrote up the report of the incident, which was ruled a suicide.
Mattingly had encountered Woodson before. On Dec. 26, 2012, Mattingly arrested Woodson—claiming that he tried to escape in a car, almost running over officers and repeatedly smashing his car into theirs until it moved out of the way and he could get away. At the trial, in May 2014, four months before Woodson's death, Mattingly did not testify because the state's attorney's office said he had an integrity issue. But Grant McDaniel, the prosecutor, told the judge and Woodson's lawyer that Mattingly had "moved on" and never disclosed the integrity investigation until it came up in a bench conference and he was forced to confess that Mattingly had not moved on.
Woodson had spent more than a year and a half in jail and he was not convicted of any of the charges. And yet, when Woodson was found dead in the precinct, Mattingly wrote the report upon which the narrative of the medical examiner's autopsy report was based—and his integrity in that regard was never questioned.
In his report on Woodson's death, Mattingly said he had pulled up into the parking lot just as he heard a radio call for a medic. But there is no way to know who was in the precinct because, as Wayne Brooks, the department's assistant for legal affairs, informed City Paper, "Members of the BPD on duty do not sign in at the district."
When City Paper called Major James Handley, the ranking officer in the precinct at that time, to ask if he knew that the person he had allowed to write the report that day had been accused of falsifying charges against the deceased, he refused to answer questions.
When Woodson's mother, Verdessa McDougald, was finally interviewed by the FIT investigator months later, she told the FIT investigator, Charles Anderson, that she believed that Southwest precinct detectives had killed her son and continues to insist that he would not have committed suicide.
Even police brass acknowledged that it was perhaps improbable that someone who they say was an attempted murderer and a gang member would get a gun into the precinct and turn it on himself.
"I am very grateful that this individual elected to use that weapon on himself and not to engage any other officers or civilians that may have been inside the police station," Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at a press conference.
Rodriguez promised there would be answers. None have been provided—and many other pieces of the public story do not make sense. City Paper has been investigating the case for over a year.
"I just don't know why Southwest is always in the news," McDougald said when she heard about Chase's collapse at the precinct. "It's a shame that there is always something going on at the district."
The collapse of Kim Chase at the precinct leaves similar unanswered questions about how the Southwest District follows procedure.
According to Commissioner Davis, police stopped Chase on the morning of Sunday, April 9, "a block or so away from her home." Davis said that "the officers knew our detainee by name and she clearly knew the officers as well."
The officers, the department says, were serving "failure to appear" warrants resulting from missed court dates over drug charges in Calvert County.
Davis said there have been complaints about leaving detainees sitting on the curb or the side of the road for too long while awaiting transport and "in this particular case they took her back to her home to gather her personal effects while they waited for the prisoner transport wagon to come and transport her to the station."
While there, a relative braided her hair.
"Why did the Baltimore Police Department allow someone under their care and custody to get her hair braided before being transported into custody?" Davis asked.
Davis suspended a lieutenant and placed two officers on administrative leave while the investigation into the circumstances of the case was pending. Neither the lieutenant nor the officers have been identified.
"My concern is that it would be neglectful to allow someone they know is a drug user to potentially, in this type of stress, to use drugs," said Jacqueline Robarge, the founder of Power Inside, an organization that serves at-risk women and girls and helped the Department of Justice collect their testimony for the investigation into the Baltimore Police Department. "There is a risk of a drug user feeling stressed about going into withdrawal in the jail and using right before they are arrested. That is not dubious or criminal behavior. That is just addictive behavior that could be predicted."
Robarge not only questions taking Chase to her home, but also taking her to the precinct.
"Until there is a protocol that is comparable to that of booking, there is video surveillance, and the consent decree and the monitoring process is fully operational, we should not be taking suspects to the stations because too many things have already happened that cannot be explained," she said.
Even before Woodson's death, the Southwest District was a notoriously bad place to be taken—and the center of one of the biggest police scandals to shake Baltimore.
On Dec. 27, 2005, a Southwest District Flex Squad—plainclothes drug detectives in an unmarked car—saw four people smoking a blunt. They let the two men go—one was in a wheelchair—and brought the women back to the Southwest District. One of the women claimed that a detective named Jemini Jones offered her freedom in exchange for sex. She told investigators that Jones said "You got to give me some ass or something," before having sex with her in a room in the precinct.
Jones was arrested and charged with sex crimes. Internal Affairs raided the precinct and accused officers of planting drugs and stealing money from suspects, in addition to other crimes.
Jones' lawyer, Janice Bledsoe, who was on the other side of a high-profile police trial as one of the chief prosecutors of the officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, tried to discredit the alleged victim to help Jones' case.
"She smokes weed on a daily basis," Bledsoe said in court. "When you mix drugs and life, you distort reality."
Jones was ultimately acquitted of the rape charges, but he was fired from the department and the Flex Squad was disbanded—although that didn't stop other Southwest detectives from carrying on with that hard-charging spirit.
Among those on behalf of whom the city had to pay out settlements for brutality claims was Dale Mattingly, the detective who claimed that Tyree Woodson tried to run him over back in 2012, leading to the charges which Woodson beat right before he died in the Southwest District. Just before Woodson was cleared on all of the charges, the department paid a $50,000 settlement when a 13-year-old boy claimed he was beaten and falsely arrested by Mattingly.
It is not only the Southwest District that has had issues with bringing detainees in to be debriefed in its precinct. In the best-known case, in April 2015, police took 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who had been seriously injured, to the Western District precinct instead of taking him to Central Booking—or the hospital. When they arrived at the precinct, they opened the side of the prisoner transport van that contained another detainee named Donta Allen and brought him in for a debriefing before they opened the door to the compartment where Gray was lying unresponsive. Officers who were involved in Gray's arrest and transport interviewed Allen before investigators had a chance to ask him about Gray's death.
No one knows what those officers may have said to him.
It is likely that, like Donta Allen, the police brought Chase to the station first in hopes of gaining information. According to women who gave statements to the DOJ about the Baltimore Police Department, this practice is even more common when officers are dealing with women who are especially vulnerable on the streets.
"The police need the women to tell certain stuff to get certain information about drug dealers," said a woman named Kiara, who gave testimony to the Department of Justice and spoke with me and Stefanie Mavronis of "The Marc Steiner Show" about the ways that officers try to gain information from women who use drugs. "They don't want to go to jail so they're going to snitch a little bit, sometimes they will snitch, so the police will get the information they want."
Todd Oppenheim, a public defender (and occasional CP contributor), says that sometimes such "secretive" questioning can be for the safety of a detainee who may have information to provide.
"Unfortunately once they get into the Central Booking scenario, there's such a mass of people coming and going it outs detainees in much more harm—the potential for them to be exposed is much greater there," he says. "That they could be seen as giving information to the police, which is not going to reflect well on them."
But Oppenheim says the precincts are not the safest place to do that.
"The precincts are one thing, but I think headquarters, the homicide area, there might be more protections there in terms of being able to tape the interrogation and having more administrative types walking around making sure that people's rights aren't violated."