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Town Dealing With Fallout From Black Man Who Died in Police Custody

June 12, 1993 GMT

CORSICANA, Texas (AP) _ Craig Thomas’ life didn’t raise many eyebrows, but his death is raising voices of concern and protest.

The 29-year-old Thomas, remembered as a fun-loving father dedicated to raising his 5-year-old daughter, died last weekend in police custody after fleeing on foot when he was stopped for a traffic violation.

Many blacks in this town about 50 miles south of Dallas contend Thomas was beaten to death and are demanding justice. Thomas’ mother said she had trouble recognizing her son’s body because his face was so badly swollen.

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″The opinion of the people on the street (is) it was excessive force, police brutality,″ protester Ronald Pillot said. ″Running from the police is not a capital offense. He shouldn’t have been killed for it.″

Members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say Thomas’ death symbolizes the police brutality and unresponsiveness that has existed for years.

Several protests and marches were staged this week. On Wednesday, about 150 protesters marched from the grassy field where Thomas was arrested to the Corsicana Government Center, where they waved banners and demanded justice.

The Texas Rangers and the FBI are looking into the case and four officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave with pay. An autopsy, which could shed light on the cause of death, has not been completed.

″As far as beating him, I couldn’t answer that,″ interim City Manager Ken Berry said Thursday. ″That’s what we want to know, too.″

Interim Police Chief Lewis Palos said Thomas was suspected of carrying drugs. During his attempted escape, Thomas threw away a matchbox containing an unknown substance, which has been sent to a lab for tests, Palos said.

Thomas was in Corsicana, in an area known for drug trafficking, to visit a girlfriend when Officer Todd Morris stopped his vehicle.

Thomas ran. After he was caught in a grassy field, Morris and backup officers bound Thomas’ hands and feet and took him to the Navarro County Justice Center.

Because he had a cut on his face, an officer refused to admit Thomas to the jail. Thomas then collapsed and emergency medical technicians were unable to revive him. He was taken to a hospital and pronounced dead.

The police ″asked me if my son had heart trouble. I told them no, but when I saw this child, I knew he had been beaten to death,″ said Thomas’ mother, Estella Washington.

Berry said Thomas’ death has triggered resentment from black residents toward Corsicana’s Police Department, which has 36 white officers, a Hispanic chief and no black officers. About 25 percent of the town’s 23,000 residents are black.

City leaders have promised to hire minority officers through college criminal justice programs. Palos said it has been about two years since a black officer was on the force.