Baltimore officer will not face charges for hitting handcuffed suspect

Baltimore Officer Michael McSpadden will not face charges for incident caught on tape.

A longtime Baltimore police officer will not face criminal charges for hitting a handcuffed suspect in a downtown parking garage during a 2012 arrest — an incident partially caught on video by a security camera.

Prosecutors determined that the statute of limitations had expired for the most serious offenses, and they could not prove other potential charges against Officer Michael McSpadden, according to a statement released Tuesday. The officer, who has been suspended since October, earns about $69,000 a year.

A Baltimore Sun investigation into police misconduct revealed last fall that McSpadden, who joined the force in 1993, had been sued five times after allegedly beating suspects during arrests. Taxpayers have paid more than $624,000 to settle those lawsuits; neither the city nor McSpadden acknowledged wrongdoing in those settlements.

At the time, The Sun also found that a security camera video had recorded much of the June 17, 2012, incident involving McSpadden and Bolaji Obe of Baltimore. Police leaders suspended McSpadden minutes after The Sun asked for comment about the video, which showed a version of events that was at odds with McSpadden's official account.

Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, said Tuesday in a statement: "Despite the fact that the statute of limitations for the most serious offenses expired during the previous administration, the State's Attorney's Office conducted a thorough review of the evidence pertaining to all remaining potential criminal charges in this case and has determined that we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt any additional criminal acts, thereby we have declined to prosecute Officer Michael McSpadden."

Bryan A. Levitt, who represented Obe in the civil lawsuit, said he never expected McSpadden to face criminal charges — even though the officer has a history of brutality allegations. Levitt said a "class difference" accounted for the way police officers treat the city's black residents.

"Suspending him with pay in light of overwhelming evidence of police brutality is fundamentally unconscionable," Levitt said. "How many people have been roughed up who haven't reported it?"

McSpadden did not respond to a request for comment.

McSpadden remains suspended from duty, said Sgt. Jarron Jackson, a police spokesman. "Our internal investigative process into this incident has begun, as is consistent with all reported allegations of misconduct made against our officers," Jackson said.

The McSpadden case highlighted criticism leveled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts last fall against the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which provides procedural protections for officers accused of misconduct.

Both leaders have said the city has no choice but to suspend officers with pay unless they are criminally charged.

McSpadden's suspension was connected to a lawsuit settled last July for $62,000. He arrested Obe at the Water Street parking garage.

According to that lawsuit, McSpadden held Obe and a friend at knifepoint. The officer demanded that one of them remove a shirt to wipe up urine on the floor, and punched Obe in the face when his hands were handcuffed behind his back, the documents state. McSpadden wielded "a knife with a blade approximately 4 or 5 inches in length ... all the while making stabbing motions toward them and also threatening to slash the tires" on their car, the lawsuit says.

McSpadden wrote in charging documents that he hit Obe, who had "assumed an aggressive stance, clenched his fist and postured his body like he was going to attack." The officer said Obe "fell to the ground and was handcuffed without further incident."

The security camera video, however, shows that the off-duty officer handcuffed Obe, who was sitting on a stool in the parking garage's office. McSpadden left and re-entered the office, moving to a spot outside the camera's view. Obe can then be seen falling off the stool to the ground outside the office.

With his arms still clearly handcuffed behind his back, Obe lay motionless as McSpadden wiped something off his face. The officer lifted Obe off the ground and leaned him against a wall.

Obe was later cleared of criminal charges.

Police leaders say they didn't know the video existed until The Sun presented it to them on Oct. 3. They suspended McSpadden that day.

City lawyers said they did not understand the extent of McSpadden's string of lawsuits until July — after The Sun started asking questions about the officer. The Law Department was unaware, for example, that McSpadden was battling two lawsuits at the same time, both arising from incidents in 2012.

The Sun investigation — which led to a review of the Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice — showed that the city paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements in more than 100 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.

The investigation also revealed that police leaders, city attorneys and other top officials were not keeping track of officers who repeatedly faced lawsuits involving allegations of brutality.

The Justice Department review was changed to a broader civil rights investigation after Freddie Gray died in April in police custody. Six officers have been charged in that incident.

mpuente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/markpuente

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