Lead Story West Edition

Family questions LAPD account of jail death

LOS ANGELES — The death last month of a black woman in police custody had members of Black Lives Matter stirring things up again at the Los Angeles Police Commission meeting April 12.

They wanted answers to the many questions surrounding the death of Wakeisha Wilson, who was found hanging in her cell in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Metropolitan Detention Center March 27.

She was transported from the detention center to County-USC Medical Center where she was pronounced dead.

An autopsy conducted by the county coroner’s office March 31 determined the cause of death as suicide by hanging but Wilson’s family questioned that ruling, saying she was not despondent and would not have taken her own life.

“We entered public comments about the killing of Wakeisha Wilson and none of the commissioners seemed to be familiar with her story,” said Black Lives Matter organizer Melina Abdullah. “Last week, Police Commission President Matt Johnson said he hadn’t heard about it, so we challenged him on that.”

Among those who spoke to the commission was Wilson’s aunt, Sheila Hines-Brim.

“As I was sitting down, one of the commissioners, Robert Saltzman, was laughing,” Hines-Brim said. “It was disgraceful. I don’t see anything funny about it.  At the end, he apologized, but as he was apologizing he was looking at his computer. I told him ‘how can you not look at my face when you apologize?’ It’s like they didn’t care.”

Abdullah said her group asked for the police department to release any videotapes pertaining to the death and for the name of the guard with whom Wilson had a verbal altercation prior to her death.

Later in the day, the group marched from LAPD headquarters to the Metropolitan Detention Center and rallied outside. They eventually went into the facility and chanted, “Say her name! Wakiesha Wilson!”

On April 13, the Los Angeles Police Department announced an internal investigation is being conducted to determine if officers “complied with LAPD’s policies and procedures” in connection with Wilson’s death.

According to the LAPD, Wilson “was arrested by Central Area patrol officers on March 26 … after they responded to a medical facility on the 1300 block of Hope Street to investigate a 911 call regarding a person assaulting a patient.”

“When the officers arrived, they conducted an investigation and determined that Wilson had assaulted the victim,” police said. “Ms. Wilson was taken into custody without the use of any physical force.”

Officers took Wilson to the Metropolitan Detention Center, where she was booked on suspicion of felony battery, police said.

“At about 8:25 a.m. March 27, [center] personnel conducted a safety check of Ms. Wilson’s cell and discovered her lying on the floor unconscious and not breathing,” police said. “Personnel immediately requested paramedics and began lifesaving measures to revive her.”

Paramedics took her to the hospital, where she died later that morning, police said.

The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division is conducting an investigation, and the results will be presented to Chief Charlie Beck and the Board of Police Commissioners, the LAPD said.

Members of Wilson’s family have disputed claims that she committed suicide and also have complained about how the LAPD handled the situation.

An attorney representing the family told the Los Angeles Times there were no signs Wilson was distraught when she spoke to relatives on the phone after her arrest and again the following morning, about 90 minutes before her death. She even made plans to call them later in the day during their Easter celebration and talk to her 13-year-old son, attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn said.

When Wilson didn’t appear in court for a March 29 hearing, her mother, Lisa Hines, called the jail but didn’t receive any information about her daughter, Person-Lynn said.

It wasn’t until the next day — about 76 hours after Wilson died — that an LAPD supervisor told Wilson’s mother to call the coroner’s office, the attorney said.

Person-Lynn said Wilson, who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, had been arrested before. Relatives said they believe her arrest “wouldn’t have been the trigger” for her to commit suicide, he said.

“I want the world to know that my niece didn’t hang herself,” Hines-Brim said. “She had plans to call her son on Easter and spend time with my daughter after she was released. She was killed on my birthday.”

Despite hitting several dead ends, Black Lives Matter and Wilson’s family believe the protest at the Police Commission meeting was necessary.

“This is a long struggle and there won’t be a way of fixing it with one or a few actions, but we are in it for the long haul,” Abdullah said. “One thing we did accomplish is people now know the story of Wakeisha Wilson; Commissioner Matt Johnson can never say he’s never heard of it.”

City News Service also contributed to this story.