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Crime

Baltimore school police officers charged with assault, misconduct in incident on video

The two Baltimore school police officers have been criminally charged in the slapping of a student on video.

Two Baltimore school police officers have been criminally charged with assault against a student in a confrontation last week that was captured on video.

Officer Anthony Spence, 44, who appears in the video to slap and then kick the youth at the REACH Partnership School in Clifton Park, was charged with second-degree child abuse, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

Officer Saverna Bias, 53, who stands behind Spence in the video, was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

A witness told investigators that Bias told Spence, "You need to smack him because he's got too much mouth," police say in charging documents.

Warrants for their arrest were issued Tuesday, and the officers turned themselves in overnight, Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said.

Spence had been placed on leave with pay, but is now on leave without pay because he has been charged with a felony, acting Baltimore School Police Chief Akil Hamm said Wednesday.

Bias, whose charges are misdemeanors, remains on leave with pay, Hamm said.

Spence and Bias were released on $50,000 unsecured personal bonds, court records show. The unsecured bail type requires no money or collateral to be posted, but the suspect will be legally bound to pay it if he or she does not show up for court.

Lauren Geisser, an attorney who is representing the student and his parents, said her client seconded the witness account that Bias told Spence to hit the youth.

"We believe it was appropriate for both officers to be charged in this instance," she said Wednesday. "Officer Bias did, in fact, direct Officer Spence to strike my client."

Spence's attorney, Mike Davey, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He has said his client believed the boy was trespassing on school grounds, and after questioning him an altercation ensued.

No attorney is listed for Bias in online court records.

City schools CEO Gregory Thornton, appearing Wednesday at a news conference with police officials at the school district's North Avenue headquarters, said the video depicted an "isolated instance."

He said he is "taking a closer look" at improvements to the school system's police force.

"I was appalled and disappointed by the video," Thornton said. "Every emotion from outrage to disappointment went through me."

Thornton said the incident "pierced the trust" between the school system and the families it serves.

The two officers and schools Police Chief Marshall Goodwin were placed on leave after the video was posted on social media. School officials declined to say why Goodwin was placed on leave.

Baltimore police launched a criminal investigation into the incident last week. Investigators say in charging documents that Spence and Bias were on duty at the time of the incident, Spence was not attempting to make an arrest, and he was "not acting in reasonable self-defense."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the incident raises "significant concerns" but expressed confidence the school system would respond appropriately.

"I have faith that they are working to address it," she said. "I have faith that they're going to do everything they can to correct this problem, this lapse, and put systems in place to help ensure something like this doesn't happen again."

Baltimore schools police are conducting a separate internal investigation.

The incident led the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund last week to renew its call for the Department of Justice to expand its civil rights investigation of the Baltimore Police Department to include the separate city schools police force.

Spence was one of two Baltimore sheriff's deputies who were fired in 2003 after a wrongful Taser attack that sparked outrage in the Hispanic community, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time.

The deputies mistook a Salvadoran construction worker for a bank robber and arrested him at lunchtime in Lexington Market. A third officer used the Taser on him twice, injuring him.

Spence said at the time that he was fired unfairly.

In 2011, Spence's girlfriend, who also was a school police officer, got a protective order against him.

According to her account in court records, Spence struck her in the face outside a Charles Street hair salon. The girlfriend said that he tried to prevent her from driving away and that she grabbed her police radio and called for assistance from school police officers.

Court records show Bias was charged with second-degree assault and carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to injure in April 2011. Police said then that Bias threw a bottle of alcohol at a man. The bottle missed, the man refused to press charges, and the case was shelved.

Kelly Welch, a criminology professor at Villanova University who has researched disciplinary tactics at schools in poor communities, raised questions about the rarity of such incidents in systems such as Baltimore.

"I'm skeptical of hearing that this is a one-time incident," Welch said. "What are the odds that the one time it happens it was recorded?"

She said her research has found that schools with large numbers of poor, minority students are more likely to implement harsher disciplinary tactics than their counterparts in more affluent areas.

Academics have dubbed it the "criminalization of students" and the "prisonization of schools," Welch said.

"Officers who are charged with protecting students in schools are treating them more like prisoners," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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