The death of a Northwest man in December shortly after he was handcuffed by police and taken to the D.C. General Hospital detoxification unit has been ruled a homicide by the D.C. medical examiner's office.

Deputy Medical Examiner Michael Bray ruled Feb. 21 that William G. Norman, 25, died of asphyxiation by neck and chest compression, and that his death was a homicide, an office spokesman said yesterday.

Norman was involved in a disturbance at the Penthouse Club, 3530 Georgia Ave. NW, on Dec. 27 and was taken into custody by police outside the club shortly before 1 a.m. Because he was intoxicated, a police spokesman said at the time, he was taken to the D.C. General detoxification unit, where officers discovered he was unconscious.

Norman, of 610 Irving St. NW, was taken to the hospital's emergency room, where he died about 2:57 a.m.

No one has been charged in his death. A police spokesman said the case has been turned over to a grand jury for possible prosecution.

The medical examiner has said that traces of PCP and cocaine were found in Norman's blood, and police sources said his blood-alcohol level was in excess of 0.30 percent. In the District, a person whose blood-alcohol level is 0.10 percent or greater is legally intoxicated.

Yesterday, sources in the D.C. police department homicide unit noted that despite bruises in the areas of Norman's neck and chest, there also was evidence that he died by suffocating on his own vomit. At the same time, however, the sources questioned the actions of some police who were involved in the incident.

According to the account supplied by these sources, police at the scene had arrested Norman, handcuffed him and were going to charge him with assault on a police officer. He was never charged, however, because police on the scene did not want to do the paper work, the sources said. Instead they took him to the D.C. General detoxification unit in Southeast Washington, about 15 minutes from the club.

There, after discovering that he was not breathing, the officers called for an ambulance to take him to the emergency room instead of driving him there. The detoxification unit of the hospital, just south of the D.C. Jail, is about 300 yards from the hospital's emergency room.

Sources said Norman was taken into custody after he started a brawl inside the club by pinching a go-go dancer who had just finished dancing. A patron of the club threw him to the floor and the club's bouncer, described by a police source as 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing about 300 pounds, wrapped him in a bear hug -- pinning Norman's arms to his side -- and dragged him out to the sidewalk.

Linwood Logan Jr., an off-duty police officer assigned to the 7th District who was in the club at the time, accompanied the men outside, where he identified himself to Norman, homicide sources said.

Although Norman appeared calm when he was taken outside, the sources said, when the bouncer went back into the club to retrieve his hat, Norman allegedly "sucker-punched" Logan, starting another fight on the sidewalk.

Logan, the bouncer and another patron restrained Norman for about eight minutes, sometimes by sitting on him, until officers from the 4th District arrived, handcuffed Norman behind his back, placed him face down in the back seat of a police cruiser and drove him to the detoxification unit.

Logan, a 17-year member of the police department, has been on routine administrative leave with pay while awaiting completion of the investigation.