Trial begins for Baltimore police officer charged with assault in Christmas Eve incident

Baltimore Police Officer Kevin Battipaglia was red-faced and out of control when he chased and clubbed a 21-year-old man in Northeast Baltimore on Christmas Eve, splitting the man’s lip and knocking out his teeth, a city prosecutor said in court Tuesday.

The officer’s defense attorney, Michael Belsky, described things differently: the officer chasing a fleeing suspect, who quickly switched directions, causing the two to collide in a matter of seconds and the tip of Battipaglia’s baton to strike Darrian Carr once by accident.

“Nobody condones police brutality or excessive use of force,” Belsky said. “This is not that case.”

Battipaglia is charged with first-degree assault in the incident, which happened about 1:30 p.m. near the intersection of Belair Road and Brendan Avenue. Opening arguments in the trial began Tuesday in a downtown Baltimore courtroom before Circuit Court Judge Dana M. Middleton.

Central to the trial is the 36-year-old officer’s body camera footage, which both the prosecutor and defense attorney described as bolstering their respective cases.

Baltimore prosecutor Alexander Rodriguez showed frame-by-frame shots of the officer’s body camera footage, depicting the officer chasing Carr across Belair Road and into a parking lot, where Carr changed direction to avoid a car and the two collided.

He described Carr’s injuries an “intentional, willful and deliberate” result of the actions of “an out-of-control Officer Battipaglia.”

“You’ll see fear in Darrian Carr’s eyes as he sees it coming,” the prosecutor said. “You don’t need an expert to show you what Officer Battipaglia’s intent was.”

In his opening statement, Belsky argued that the collision lasted only 1.5 to two seconds, after both men had been running full speed.

“I agree with the state,” Belsky said. “The video tells the tale.”

He played the footage, which showed a quick collision with the baton hitting Carr out of the camera frame.

“One, two — that’s the case right there,” he said as the video rolled.

The officer immediately called a medic and another officer found him kneeling next to Carr, Belsky said.

The first witness, Officer Rhys Dacuycuy, walked the court through his body camera footage from the day. He said he and Battipaglia had responded in separate patrol cars to the high-crime corner to a call from a store owner complaining about a money dispute.

Dacuycuy, who arrived first, testified that he ordered the roughly six people gathered outside the corner store to clear the corner, and that he saw Battipaglia chase a few of them across the busy intersection.

“We’re going to start ticketing you for trespassing,” Dacuycuy announces in his body camera footage. Then, as Battipaglia gets out of his car and gives chase, he adds: “Or my partner’s going to chase you across the street.”

Dacuycuy stayed at the corner to speak to one of the other people, he said, then ran across the intersection when he heard yelling and found Battipaglia kneeling by Carr on the ground.

Tyquan Spriggs, 23, a friend of Carr’s who was with him on the corner that day, testified that he had been walking away, obeying Dacuycuy’s order, when he saw Battipaglia hop out of his patrol car, baton in hand.

“He looked like he was ready to hit me,” said Spriggs, describing Battipaglia as “angry, aggressive.”

Spriggs said he and Carr ran from the officer across Belair Road, then Spriggs ran down Brendan Avenue, while Carr cut through the parking lot of a Dollar Tree.

Battipaglia’s body camera footage showed him chasing Carr, and catching up to him at the parking lot’s Brendan Avenue entrance. Spriggs said a car passed in front of him as the two collided and he did not see the baton hit Carr.

But Spriggs described seeing Battipaglia swing the baton — “like he was whacking something” — and the witness raised his right arm outward and to the side to demonstrate the motion on the stand.

“I ain’t see him hit him,” he said. “But I seen the swing.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned Dr. Jonathan L. Arden, a forensic pathologist called as an expert witness by the defense, for hours Tuesday about Carr’s wound and Battipaglia’s arm motion in the video.

Arden said he had reviewed the case file, pictures of the baton and Carr’s medical records, including photos and CAT scans of his head taken at the hospital after the incident.

He testified that Carr had suffered a single blow to the upper lip no larger than an inch in diameter, busting his lip, fracturing his two right upper incisor teeth and fracturing his upper jaw.

Battipaglia’s baton in his right hand rises and falls into the camera frame as he is running to chase Carr in the body camera footage, Arden noted. He suggested the baton hit Carr when he changed direction in front of Battipaglia.

Had Battipaglia hit him across the head with the broad side of the baton, the injury would have been larger, the pathologist testified.

“He experienced a blunt impact over a very small, localized area,” Arden said. “Most likely the cause of that injury was the tip, the end, of the baton as [Battipaglia] was running.”

On cross-examination, Rodriguez asked whether such an injury could have been inflicted by a raised part of the handle.

“It could,” Arden said. “It’s certainly within the realm of possibility.”

When the charges were filed in March, police spokesman T.J. Smith said Battipaglia had been suspended without pay. The officer sat silently through the trial in a blue suit, occasionally conferring with his attorneys.

City pay records show Battipaglia’s salary in 2017 was $66,122, though he took home $100,958 including overtime.

Prosecutors said they expected to wrap up their arguments Wednesday, and defense attorneys said they expected to rest their case Thursday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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