BALTIMORE — Sgt. Christopher Kintop, the officer in charge the night Annapolis police arrested Towhee Sparrow, testified in a federal court Thursday that officers never beat the Prince George's County man nor used racial slurs when they detained him as a suspect in an armed assault.
Kintop is one of three officers named in Sparrow’s lawsuit in which he claims police violated his Fourth Amendment rights, kicked him in the head, called him racial slurs and injured his hands while pulling him off the ground in handcuffs during a detainment on June 5, 2014.
The sergeant testified in U.S. District Court that he was speaking with Sparrow’s father while other officers handled the detainment and eventual release of Sparrow, adding that he never saw Sparrow beaten or heard him called a racial slur.
“I think I would’ve been in a good position to hear it,” Kintop said.
But Sparrow testified Thursday that one of the officers named in the lawsuit, Ralph DeFalco, didn’t not describe his detainment accurately when he testified this week.
He said while he was on the ground, he felt the officer “yank up on my arms” so hard that it made his hands numb for three or four days. Despite the injury and his claim that the officers beat him, he said he felt safer on the ground.
“I just wanted to lay there … I didn’t know what they were about to do,” he said.
The testimony comes in the second week of the trial with racial overtones. The officers named as defendants — Kintop, DeFalco and Robert Reese II — are white. The jury is all white.
Judge Catherine C. Blake said the case will be handed to the jury on Wednesday after the two sides settle matters over jury instructions Monday.
Police say that Sparrow was not the man they were searching for when they received a report of a couple threatened at gunpoint by a man on a dirt bike at a shopping center on Bay Ridge Road.
Witnesses testified last week they told officers the man who threatened them was a Hispanic or Asian teenager. Sparrow is black. But the office has defended its actions, saying Sparrow was detained as part of an active investigation.
Kintop defended Reese, a former Annapolis officer named in the lawsuit who now is with the Harford County Sheriff’s Office. Reese detained Sparrow at gunpoint after seeing him ride on what he thought was a dirt bike in a nearby community.
“He did his job as a police officer to stop that person,” Kintop said.
Sparrow’s attorney, Charles Bernstein, countered that Kintop had his back turned while other officers brought in the two victims to identify the man. He said while Kintop said he did not see any visible injuries, Sparrow’s internal injuries would not have been immediately noticeable. Sparrow suffered brain damage, his attorneys say.
Kintop testified it’s common for officers to miss parts of radio dispatches related to their case, as Assistant City Attorney Gary Elson tried to show that officers might not have known the details of the suspect’s description prior to detaining Sparrow. Kintop said officers could have called into the station for such details if they thought they’d missed part of the transmission.
The sergeant was joined by Detective Thomas Pyles, a 15-year veteran of the Annapolis Police Department, who testified he did not see officers do anything improper with Sparrow. He did say he heard Sparrow say “ooo” or “ow” when Officer Ralph DeFalco, the third officer named in the suit, “pulled his hands away from his body” while “he was in handcuffs.”
Charles Key, a former Baltimore city police officer who Elson called upon as an expert witness in police policy, testified that he believed officers followed proper protocol in detaining Sparrow.
He said the agreed upon facts of the case — that Reese approached Sparrow with his gun drawn, had him placed in handcuffs and that Sparrow had his arms pulled away from his waist after an officer thought he identified a gun that turned out to be a cellphone — showed that the investigating officers were following procedure to ensure the safety of Sparrow and the officers.
This is the second time Kintop has been named in a wrongful arrest lawsuit. A state District Court judge found Kintop and the city liable after he changed the suspect's race on an arrest warrant in 2007 in a domestic violence case from black to white, leading to the arrest and detention of the wrong man.
In May 2013, while the case was pending, then-police Chief Michael Pristoop promoted Kintop to sergeant. A state district court judge ruled against the city in March 2014.