Indicted Baltimore officer was subject of excessive-force review

An internal police investigation into excessive force led to a Baltimore officer’s being charged with first-degree assault and misconduct in office, police said Tuesday.

Officer Carlos Rivera-Martinez was indicted by jurors for his alleged actions July 5, 2016, near the War Memorial at 100 N. Gay St.

“Once the Special Investigation Response Team further investigated this situation they observed a use of force that appeared to be excessive,” police spokesman T.J. Smith said. “After thoroughly reviewing, they forwarded the case to the State’s Attorney’s Office. This case originated in the district and we believe the system worked as it should to capture this incident for further investigation. Days prior to this situation, the new use-of-force policy was unveiled, July 1, 2016.”

Rivera-Martinez, 31, has been suspended without pay since March.

Police declined to provide details on the nature of the incident, citing the need to provide evidence at trial. Court documents also revealed little.

The indictment released Tuesday by the state’s attorney’s office alleges that Rivera-Martinez “did while acting in his capacity as a duly sworn police officer for the Baltimore City Police Department corruptly commit a unlawful act in a wrongful or improper manner, in violation of the Common Law; against the peace, government and the dignity of the State.”

Rivera-Martinez is scheduled to be arraigned July 24.

City Councilman Brandon Scott said he has asked police why it took two years for the officer to be charged and indicted.

“It shouldn’t have taken that long,” said Scott, chairman of the council’s public safety committee. “It is important to get these investigations done quickly so if punitive action needs to be taken that can be done immediately. If you get to issues quickly by investigating the first incident, they don’t have the ability grow.”

Former Police Commissioner Kevin Davis created the Special Investigation Response Team, known as SIRT, in 2015 amid the U.S. Department of Justice’s review of the agency after Freddie Gray’s death. The team receives extensive training in crime scene analysis and homicide investigations.

Smith said the team turned its findings over to the prosecutors about six months ago.

Contributing to the amount of time it took to charge Rivera-Martinez was the various levels of review that took place, Smith said. District-level staff pulled all surveillance footage connected to the incident, as required by the use-of-force policy adopted two years, before flagging the incident for review by SIRT and eventually the state’s attorney. The new policy was written in consultation with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP and local prosecutors and public defenders.

Online records show Rivera-Martinez was hired by the Police Department in 2010.

He was involved in an unrelated shooting in late January, Smith said.

Rivera-Martinez shot Brian Campbell, 20, of Cockeysville, in the leg Jan. 20 after police said Campbell failed to put down his weapon.

Campbell and Omari Hart, of Mount Washington, who is now 21, were arrested and charged with handgun violations.

Rivera-Martinez was among a group of patrol officers who confronted a group of five men — three of whom had been seen on city surveillance cameras arming themselves — downtown at Park Avenue and Clay Street. The men fled in different directions when the officers arrived, including Campbell, who police said ran north to the 200 block of W. Mulberry St. Rivera-Martinez fired a single shot that struck him in the leg.

Earlier this year at a news conference, police played a portion of the officer’s body camera footage, in which an officer can be heard yelling, “Drop it.”

“Get away from the gun,” the officer yells several times.

Police said at the time the officer — whom Smith identified Tuesday as Rivera-Martinez — fired his weapon because Campbell did not give up his gun, although the suspect did not fire at the officers.

In audio from the footage, Campbell could be heard howling as he lay on his side. The gun was near his body.

After the shooting, Rivera-Martinez was placed on routine administrative leave pending an investigation. It is unclear when, or if, he returned to duty before he was suspended in March for the 2016 incident.

Rivera-Martinez earned more than $90,000 last year. His suspension without pay is in accordance with the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office has said the indictment is “a strong reminder that we will pursue justice fairly and equally no matter an individual’s race, gender, creed, or occupation.”

No lawyer was listed for Rivera-Martinez.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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