COLUMN LEFT : Sudden Death, With Police at the Scene : When Tracy Mayberry died, there were no cameras.
Tracy Mayberry died twice: first at the feet of some half-dozen Los Angeles police officers at about 8:30 a.m. last Nov. 3; second, four months later in the minds of his neighbors on the 400 block of North Norton Street as they watched the home video of Rodney King taking his beating on March 3. One of them remembers, “My stomach started grinding and I said, ‘My God, it’s the same.’ ”
In the arc lights of the King case they relive the moment when they knew that after minutes of relentless beating, during which people screamed at police to stop, Tracy Mayberry died.
By then he was hogtied, a rope pulling his cuffed hands and cuffed feet together behind his back. “All of a sudden,” recalls a witness, Dr. Robert Mueller, “I felt something happen. I looked and he’d stopped breathing.”
Mayberry was 31 and a big fellow--75 inches in length and 272 pounds, as measured by the coroner. He’d been in the Vice Lords gang in Chicago and done some time. Still, many in this trim little neighborhood remembered him as “kind, not like a thug,” as one friend put it.
According to someone living nearby, Mayberry had been doing cocaine all the previous night. At about 7:30 a.m., just as he had done two weeks before, Mayberry burst onto the street, shouting that “they” were after him. The earlier time, police had simply hauled him away in handcuffs. This time, Mayberry went up the street and broke in on the terrified Margaret Mansour, seizing her son Johnny and screaming for protection. As another son, Marvin, told a Los Angeles Times reporter, “It didn’t seem like he was really trying to hurt anyone. It was more like he was crazy. He kept saying we had to call the police.”
The police came quickly enough and approached Mayberry, now sitting in the flower bed outside the Mansour apartment, with guns out. He had on sweat pants and a tank top. They told him to get on his knees. Witnesses said he simply sat with his head covered with his hands, whimpering, “Please don’t shoot.”
At this point, according to one witness who does not want his name used, the police started kicking and hitting Mayberry. He rose and lurched up the street, taking blows as he went. Eighty yards later, they got him down and “beat him half to death.” The witness says this phase of the beating went on for about seven minutes. “The best description I can give is that it was like the same picture you see on TV when you see King’s beating,” the witness said. “Actually it was a little worse. I saw two batons broken on him. He wasn’t fighting at all, and they kept beating him after he was handcuffed.”
By the time Mueller stepped out of his home at 440 N. Norton, Mayberry was face-down. “He was being beaten on the legs and buttocks by two policemen. There were others standing around. They were solid blows. It’s a sickening sound when you hear someone hitting flesh and blood that hard.”
Miriam Morales also stood watching, with her children. “There was a lot of screaming, him screaming ‘don’t hit me,’ ” she said. “There was a brother kicking him, too,” said one of her children, who recalled seeing white and Asian officers and one black officer.
Mueller recalls that one officer moved Mayberry’s face with his foot, “found he wasn’t breathing, bent down, checked him out, turned him over and then they started (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on him. They called the ambulance but by that time he was dead.” Miriam Morales echoes this. “They tried to play it like he was alive. But they didn’t even put the siren on when the ambulance came.”
Mayberry’s autopsy shows extensive bruising and abrasions. It also reports that Mayberry had in his body a negligible level of alcohol but 2.40 micrograms of cocaine per milliliter of blood. The deputy medical examiner, Dr. Hyderali Mukadam, notes in longhand, “lethal level 1.0-20.0.”
Dr. David E. Smith, founder and medical director of the Haight-Ashbury Medical Free Clinics and a recognized authority on drug abuse, says that “We have seen a number of chronic abusers with these blood levels who are not dead.” Mayberry “wouldn’t take a big hit of cocaine and put up a fight for half an hour and die of an overdose. That’s not an overdose death.” Mayberry had a high tolerance for cocaine, Smith says, otherwise he would have died long before he showed the symptoms of “cocaine psychosis” that he did. Smith emphasizes that the autopsy omitted any mention of the effect that a prolonged beating would have had on someone in Mayberry’s condition.
The police and the district attorney’s office say the case is not closed, but for the past four months it has shown no public signs of life.