A Baltimore judge sent a police officer to jail on Wednesday for 45 days after he was convicted of beating a drug suspect who had broken into his girlfriend's home, a rare punishment for a police misconduct case.
A sheriff's deputy clicked handcuffs around Anthony Williams' wrists as his family screamed and sobbed from the public benches. Williams was led out of the court, across the busy public area of the downtown courthouse and into the lockup. The door slammed behind him.
"This case was very troubling to this court," Judge M. Brooke Murdock said before handing down the sentence. "The community has a right to expect the police will respect the law."
Few Baltimore police officers have been locked up as the result of convictions for crimes ranging from misconduct to assault in recent years. Out of 23 officers prosecuted since State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein took office in 2011, Williams is the second sentenced to incarceration, according to court records.
Prosecutors say they have asked for jail time in other cases, but have seen their sentencing requests rejected by judges. Data on prosecutions before Bernstein's tenure were not available Wednesday.
Prosecutors hope the next to be locked up is Sgt. Marinos N. Gialamas who was convicted of misconduct in connection with the Williams case. They have asked the judge to give him a 60-day term at his sentencing Friday, according to court documents.
"In this case, Sgt. Gialamas strayed far outside the boundaries of legitimate police power," prosecutors wrote, "and used his status in a manner that violated the public's trust and dishonored the badge of the Baltimore Police Department."
Gialamas' attorney could not be reached for comment.
The case underscores the difficulty of investigating police misconduct. A detective who testified against the two officers told Baltimore County police that he returned to his car one morning to find a dead rat on the windshield. Nobody has been charged in that incident, and the two officers have denied any involvement.
The two officers were convicted in the beating of Antoine Green, who had fled police investigating a suspected drug deal and broke into the home of Nakishia Epps, Williams' girlfriend. Police arrived, took Green into custody and began to drive him away in a wagon, but Gialamas ordered him brought back to the house after the off-duty Williams arrived.
As a crowd watched in the street, according to court documents, Green was taken back into the home — still in cuffs — and attacked by Williams.
In February, a jury convicted Williams of assault and obstructing a subsequent internal affairs investigation into the 2011 incident.
In one interview with detectives, Epps said that Green had tried to attack Williams. But she later recanted the story, saying Williams had told her what to say when she spoke to internal affairs.
In an interview on Wednesday, Epps maintained that the first account is true — that Green did attack Williams. She said that Williams did not coach her and that she only said that because she was angry after learning that he had a wife.
A year after the break-in, Epps told Baltimore County police that Williams had assaulted her, which officers later deemed to be untrue and charged her with making a false statement. That case was ultimately placed on an inactive docket, meaning prosecutors aren't likely to pursue it.
Williams' wife, Nicole Williams, testified on his behalf at the sentencing. "I love my husband," she said.
Williams said he became a police officer because he wanted to be like a superhero in the community. He maintained that he had done nothing wrong and was merely trying to protect his girlfriend.
"Would I change what I did that day? No," Williams told the judge.
But prosecutor Paul Pineau said the situation at the house was under control until Williams arrived. Pineau said Green had feared for his life during the beating because he was surrounded by armed and emotional men.
Green did not testify at the sentencing.
Pineau sought a slightly longer sentence for Williams and said he thought jail time would help send a "powerful message" to other police officers tempted to do wrong.
Prosecutors previously dropped drug, burglary and assault charges against Green in the case. Epps said she felt that she had not received justice.
Baltimore Police Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said in a statement that the sentence reflected the department's commitment to holding its officers accountable and "to hold ourselves to a higher standard."
Detective Joseph Crystal had agreed to testify against the two officers. He also reported to Baltimore County police that he found the dead rat, which he took as a sign that he had been branded as a snitch.
Crystal didn't attend the sentencing, but his wife, Nicole Crystal, did. Nicole Crystal said that while she is proud of her husband for taking the stand against his fellow officers, she still fears for his safety.
"I'm scared because I don't know if another officer is going to put him in the morgue or the hospital," she said after the hearing.
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