After “Car Wash” Actor Died Suspiciously In Police Custody, Fans And Celebs Were Outraged
For those of us who are fans of the 70’s film, Car Wash, we remember the character, “Geronimo,” portrayed by actor, Raymond Vitte. Vitte was also known for his roles in the films, 9 To 5 (1980), Up In Smoke (1978), and Thank God It’s Friday (1978); and TV shows, like All In The Family, That’s My Mama, Sanford and Son, The Quest, and more. What many of us didn’t know, is that Vitte died in 1983 at the age of 33. Equally surprising is the way that he died, while in LAPD custody, under very suspicious circumstances that many of his loved ones believed were really fishy.
At the time of Vitte’s death, there were many holes in the story surrounding the police report. His death certificate was also allegedly sealed by the LAPD. Raymond Vitte’s wife, Ernesta- who was 3 months pregnant when he died- joined Donna Summer, and others to speak out publicly about their suspicions.
Below is what was reported in 1983, shortly after Robert Vitte’s death [via United Press International]:
LOS ANGELES — Actor Raymond Vitte, who died minutes after [an alleged] weekend fight with police, was not beaten to death by the officers, the coroner’s office said Tuesday.
Spokesman Bill Gold said preliminary reports of an autopsy showed ‘superficial injuries consistent with a struggle were found, but they were not responsible for his death.’ He also said no needle marks were found on Vitte’s body, and said there was no evidence a chokehold was applied.
What Happened To Raymond Vitte
UPI- Vitte died at a hospital where he was taken by officers after he stopped breathing in the back of a patrol car.
Lt. Charles Higbie said officers summoned by neighbors in the actor’s Studio City apartment complex found Vitte alone in his apartment clad only in undershorts and a shirt. The actor’s ‘religious shouting’ had continued for more than 12 hours before the neighbors called police, Higbie said.
Vitte ordered the officers off the porch and ‘placed a curse on them,’ he said. In an ensuing struggle, Vitte was struck several times with a baton and sprayed in the face with tear gas.
The actor ran from officers and fell at the side of building’s swimming pool, Higbie said. He then was handcuffed and ‘was carried screaming’ to a squad car to be taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation. Officers noticed on the way that he had stopped breathing and detoured to a closer facility, where Vitte was pronounced dead.
In a press conference at that time, Vitte’s loved ones said there was something really suspicious about those findings…
Donna Summer spoke out in Vitte’s defense:
According to reports, Donna Summer was “baffled” by Raymond Vitte’s death, stating, “I’m devastated because he’s also my brother in Christ and I love him”:
Donna Summer complained bitterly ‘that a man who’s basically minding his own business in his own home, who happens to be creating a disturbance somehow, is now dead because his neighbors called the police. Is it more important that he be quieted and that his neighbors have peace?’ she asked a reporter after the news conference, held at her Hollywood recording studio.
‘We’re less one person because his neighbors complained about some noise. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think it’s more important to have the man and if the man is noisy, OK, that’s one thing. But I think our priorities are very drastically off.’
NAACP questioned the use of force used by police officers
Willis Edwards of the NAACP…criticized the police role in Vitte’s death. He asked the district attorney to investigate and urged the Police Commission ‘to halt the brutalization of black people. It’s an extremely sad day for all black people who live in this community,’ he said. ‘Once again, we have an unfortunate example of excessive police force.’
Actress Sheila Frazier, was angry over her friend’s death:
In a telephone interview with UPI, Sheila Frazier said Vitte was “not a drug-crazed fanatic,” but “a solid, loving man.”
She also suggested that Vitte’s chanting, which police said included the name of Mohammed, may have been the Pentecostal practice of ‘speaking in tongues.’ -via UPI
This sounds foul on many levels and the family of Ray Vitte deserves an unbiased and thorough investigation. It’s been 37 years since his death; and unfortunately, we’re still witnessing “suspicious” deaths/murders at the hands of law enforcement in 2020. Thus, the details surrounding Vitte’s death are sadly, still very relevant today. May he and the countless other unjustly slain Black and Brown brothas and sistas continue to rest peacefully.