A heart abnormality may have killed Stanley Washington, 41, while he was in Buffalo police custody last week, according to preliminary autopsy findings.
Dr. Sung Ook Baik, an associate Erie County medical examiner, said Monday that Washington had heart problems but that he will not be able to say for certain if that caused the death until toxicology tests are completed in about 45 days.
Despite family claims that Washington was severely beaten on the face and head by police, the autopsy found no brain damage, Baik said.
"There was no severe trauma to the head. There was a small, tiny laceration above the right eye and I do not think that would cause any problems," Baik said.
Dorothy Hawkins, Washington's sister, disputed Baik's findings, saying she viewed her brother's body at the Erie County Morgue on Friday.
"There was a lot of damage to the forehead. There were lumps on each side of his forehead and bruises on his face," Miss Hawkins said.
She added that she and other relatives would not be surprised if traces of drugs or alcohol showed up in the toxicology findings.
Washington, who collapsed at headquarters, reportedly smoked a marijuana cigarette laced with crack cocaine before he and his brother Douglas, 44, began fighting at an intersection Thursday night, according to a statement Douglas Washington gave police after he and Stanley were arrested.
"If Douglas said that, I believe him, but it doesn't have anything to do with a beating and Douglas is also saying he witnessed the initial beating," Miss Hawkins said. She added the older brother saw officers repeatedly slam Stanley Washington's head on the roof of a patrol car.
Officers Earl Perrin and Michael Bass, while on routine patrol, encountered the fight between the two brothers at 7:09 p.m. Thursday at Northland Avenue and Schuele Street.
After breaking up the fight, Stanley Washington allegedly refused to let police search him and resisted arrest, according to Deputy Police Commissioner John R. Battle. Officials said officers used force to subdue Washington after he began swinging a dangling set of handcuffs at them from the one wrist they had been able to handcuff.
This confrontation took place beside a patrol car, police said.
Noting her brother did not have a history of heart disease, Miss Hawkins said, "My heart would give out if I was getting whopped."
The family, she said, has secured the services of a law firm "not so much for the monetary aspect, but so we can get some justice."
Attorney Steve Barnes said he and the family are anxious to learn the exact cause of death.
He added that he does not want to jump to any conclusions before reviewing autopsy results.
Efforts to speed return of toxicology tests have been made, according to Dr. Robert Osiewicz, director of the Forensic Toxicology Laboratory in the Erie County medical examiner's office.