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POLICE CLEARED IN DEATH; FAMILY IS UNCONVINCED

The Erie County district attorney's office has cleared Buffalo police of any wrongdoing in the death of a man while he was in police custody.

Two independent medical examinations support the original finding that the death of Stanley Washington, 41, on Jan. 8 was "not the result of any intentional, reckless or criminally negligent conduct," John DeFranks, first assistant district attorney, said Wednesday.

Police Commissioner Rocco J. Diina welcomed the news. "I'm pleased to hear that the officers acted properly, but on a personal note, I sympathize with the family for their loss," he said.

But family members said they remain convinced Washington was beaten by police.

"They can close their investigation, but we won't," said Dorothy Hawkings, a sister of the victim.

The family has retained attorney Franklin Pratcher, who said: "Based on the information we have, there's more to it (than a heart attack)."

Washington died in Erie County Medical Center after being stricken in Buffalo Police Headquarters. He was arrested after Officers Earl Perrin and Michael Bass said they broke up a fight between Washington and his brother Douglas, 44, at Northland Avenue and Schuele Street. Douglas Washington has disputed police claims that they were fighting.

The original autopsy said Washington died of a heart attack brought on by a combination of pre-existing heart conditions plus cocaine abuse, "exhausting by struggling" and "head, neck and abdominal injuries."

The last two factors deserve further investigation, Pratcher said.

Dr. Michael M. Baden, an internationally known forensic pathologist, concluded that Washington died of a heart attack.

Dr. Robert P. Gatewood, a Buffalo cardiologist, agreed, adding that the heart attack might have been drug-related.

Toxicology tests found traces of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine in Stanley Washington's system.

"In the wake of the (Mark S.) Virginia case, the district attorney's office erred on the side of being uncommonly cautious, and now we've got everybody from heart specialists to pathologists agreeing there was no wrongdoing on the parts of officers" said Thomas H. Burton, attorney for the Police Benevolent Association.

Virginia died in police custody in March 1996; a police lieutenant who stood trial in the case subsequently was acquitted of homicide-related charges.

News Staff Reporter Janice Habuda also contributed to this report.

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