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Volunteer Baltimore County officer to remain suspended after video incident

Law EnforcementFreedom of the Press

A volunteer Baltimore County police officer who was videotaped in February telling a citizen he had "lost" his right to free speech will remain with the program but cannot return to patrol duties, Police Chief Jim Johnson said Friday.

The video of the officer, identified for the first time as Sgt. Matthew S. Betz, went viral and showed Betz jostling the camera of a bystander at an early-morning arrest in downtown Towson and telling him to "shut your [expletive] mouth or you're going to jail."

When the person filming asked if he had "freedom of speech," Betz responded, "You just lost it."

County police say Betz has been volunteering with the county for 22 years through its auxiliary police program, though court records show he was terminated in 2006 and later reinstated after filing a lawsuit.

After the video surfaced in February, Johnson suspended Betz. On Friday, police said Betz will remain on administrative duties after an internal investigation found that he "behaved inappropriately." Area police have faced scrutiny in recent years over the public's right to record officers.

"The language he used was incorrect, unnecessary and not helpful in bringing the incident to closure," Johnson said in a statement.

The auxiliary police program counts 88 trained volunteers, who assist county officers and must complete 115 hours of training. They do not carry firearms and have "extremely limited powers of arrest," police said.

Members are not paid but can receive a pension payment upon a certain age after completing 25 years of service, according to Betz's 2007 lawsuit.

Betz is listed as the secretary and treasurer of the Law Officers Association of Baltimore County, and works as a court reporter for a family-owned company. Efforts to reach him Friday through the company were not successful.

Betz was previously terminated from the auxiliary force in April 2006 after an incident in which another officer unplugged someone's computer mouse as a prank, according to his lawsuit. He had been accused of failing to report the incident but said he was not given a chance to answer the charges.

Court records show the case was settled two years later, and Betz returned to the force.

"Everything that I learned in the course of representing him for his wrongful termination case against the Baltimore County Police Department was that he was extraordinarily valued by career and auxiliary command and fellow officers, up and down the line," said attorney Howard Hoffman, who is not representing Betz currently.

jfenton@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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