A District man died yesterday at Howard University Hospital after he stopped breathing during an arrest in which D.C. police officers struck him with a metal baton. Police said the suspect had refused to drop a bicycle lock that he had been banging against his mother's apartment door.
Alvin Maurice Headspeth, 43, of no fixed address, died at 6:18 p.m., a police detective said. He had never regained consciousness after a confrontation early yesterday with police.
Police said Headspeth was behaving in a "violent, irrational manner" when they responded to an apartment building in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood shortly before 3 a.m. yesterday, and that he struggled with officers even after he had been handcuffed.
But family members, who called police initially, accused police of excessive force. They said they did not know when they called police that the man beating on the door was Headspeth.
Headspeth fell unconscious and stopped breathing before police could take him away, and officers performed CPR on him until an ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital, police said. They also said it could not be determined immediately whether Headspeth was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
A police spokesman, Sgt. Joe Gentile, said before Headspeth's death that the department had begun an internal investigation. He said it was unclear how many officers were involved in the incident, and he declined to release their names.
The confrontation occurred in the third-floor hallway of an apartment building in the 1600 block of Euclid Street NW.
Headspeth's mother and sister said they called police after someone started banging on their door in the middle of the night. Other residents called police, as well, some reporting a disorderly, suspicious person and at least one reporting a burglary in progress, police said.
Gentile said two officers -- one of them a sergeant -- arrived about 2:40 a.m. and approached Headspeth with their guns drawn as he banged a large, U-shaped bicycle lock against the door. After he refused several times to drop the lock, the officers holstered their weapons, Gentile said.
One officer extended a metal police baton and failed in an attempt to knock the lock out of Headspeth's hand, then struck him at least once in the leg, Gentile said. The officers then fell on top of Headspeth, struggled to handcuff him and called for backup, he said.
"He may have hit his head on the door or wall when he fell," Gentile said.
Sheila Headspeth, 36, the suspect's sister, said her brother's head was bleeding profusely when she opened the apartment door. She said the officers were struggling with him on the floor and had him in a headlock. He was yelling for her to help him, she said.
Residents said as many as a dozen other officers then arrived at the building and carried Headspeth to the stairwell. The residents said the officers refused to let them follow them down.
"They were mad. They were saying they would break his arm," Sheila Headspeth said. "I kept saying, `Don't hurt him.' "
Resident Christina Clark, 35, said she saw Headspeth lying on his stomach outside, his hands cuffed and legs bound, while an officer stood above him with his foot pressed on his back. She said Headspeth was spitting blood and appeared to be trying to speak.
Clark said the officers placed him in a transport wagon, then removed him less than a minute later after an officer said Headspeth had stopped breathing. An officer then took off his handcuffs and found no pulse, she said.
Gentile said that Headspeth fell unconscious before he was placed in the wagon and that a D.C. police officer and a uniformed Secret Service officer performed CPR on him.
Staff writer Allan Lengel contributed to this report.