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Woman in arrest video describes violent takedown by police

Did police try to delete cell phone video of officers making an arrest?

In the early hours of a Sunday morning in March, Kianga Mwamba said, she was on the way home from a family gathering and about to stop to pick up some food for her children at the all-night restaurant Valentino's.

But as she got near, she stopped to record a group of police arresting a man across the street.

Mwamba, 36, flicked on the video recorder on her cell phone, telling officers she was allowed to record. But the situation quickly devolved into Mwamba's being hauled from her Toyota, tasered and charged with assaulting two police officers.

"I'm in shock for real, like are they really doing this to me," Mwamba said as she recalled the arrest in an interview this fall.

And when Mwamba was bailed out of jail that Monday morning, she said the video she made appeared to have been deleted from her phone. It was only when she checked another app that backed up her images and videos to the cloud that she found she still had a copy, she said.

Prosecutors dropped all the charges against Mwamba in September, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to move forward, and last week she filed a $7 million lawsuit against a number of officers she says were involved in her arrest and what she says was an attempt by police to destroy the footage.

The video she shot surfaced online Monday, prompting the Police Department to denounce the actions and language used by one officer.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts was asked about the incident during the Police Department's "Twitter Town Hall" question-and-answer session Monday, and the agency later sent out a statement condemning the language as "both offensive and unacceptable."

The agency had hours earlier concluded a news conference with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in which officials presented statistics showing a steep drop in discourtesy complaints against officers and in notices received from lawyers about their intent to file lawsuits.

In the statement, police said they had known about the video since April and had begun an "in-depth investigation." The case was turned over to the state's attorney's office to determine whether any criminal conduct occurred.

"The video does not capture enough information to draw definitive conclusions about what transpired before, during and after the arrest," the statement said. "What is clear is that the language used is unacceptable and will not be tolerated."

The September morning Mwamba learned that her case would be dropped, she came into a courtroom at the Baltimore City Circuit Court and excitedly told her father — a veteran officer with the Maryland Capitol Police. He kissed her on the cheek.

"I'm glad it's over, but I feel like I was wrongfully arrested," Mwamba said in an interview the same day. "Now when I see [the police], I get a little shook up."

The case against Mwamba was thrown out as the Police Department faces continuing scrutiny over a pattern of forceful arrests and charges filed against the victims of police violence. A six-month investigation by The Baltimore Sun found that the city had paid out $5.7 million since 2011 after the police faced lawsuits over arrests.

The video Mwamba made shows 27-year-old Cordell Bruce lying in the street surrounded by police officers. Mwamba said that before she started taping she saw officers kicking him.

Bruce faces assault charges in connection with the incident, after police say he struck an officer in the face repeatedly outside an after-hours club. His attorney, Jason Ott, said Bruce denies the charges. He had left the club and walked into the middle of a melee, Ott said, before being set on by police.

"We're confident he'll be found not guilty," Ott said.

Mwamba's video does not capture the entire scene, and after she stopped her car and began filming an officer told her keep moving once a stoplight turned green.

"All right, I'll park, I'll park," Mwamba tells the officers.

Multiple officers can be heard telling Mwamba to get out of the street but as she tries to pull over, Mwamba says she cannot get out of the road because there are officers blocking the way.

"How can I pull my car over right here when the police is right here?" Mwamba says, according to the video.

Then, a minute and 23 seconds after Mwamba began filming, things appear to start spiraling out of control. The video does not show what happened but shouting and the sound of banging can be heard outside the car and Mwamba says, "Why would you do that?"

Officer Stephanie Uruchima wrote in a report that Mwamba had accelerated and hit Officer Kari Larson in the legs, knocking her back. Mwamba denies that she tried to hit Larson.

Uruchima then described an orderly process of trying to remove Mwamba from the car, but on the video it appears as though officers rush forward and they can be heard using a Taser, which has a distinctive clicking sound.

After the metallic sound of handcuffs going on, a male voice can be heard saying "You're a dumb bitch, do you know that?"

"What did I do?" Mwamba asks.

"You just tried to run over an officer," the same male voice says. After that the video cuts out.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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