Baltimore officers, including one involved in Gray case, testify in trial against county cop

Two officers assigned to the Baltimore police helicopter unit testified Tuesday that they flagged video to their supervisors of an arrest by a Baltimore County police officer later accused of excessive force.

Officers Edward Nero and John Bilheimer said they were concerned about the video that prosecutors say captured Officer Christopher M. Spivey kicking a suspect in the head after a high-speed chase that ended on foot Jan. 25 in a dark parking lot. But the officers did not describe on the stand what they witnessed.

Nero was one of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray, and still faces a departmental hearing in that case.

During opening statements Tuesday in Spivey’ s trial, Deputy State’s Attorney Robin S. Coffin argued that the county officer acted “without hesitation.” She said video from the Baltimore police Foxtrot helicopter captured Spivey kicking 20-year-old Diamontae Tyquan Farrar, and then bending over and spitting on him after he was in handcuffs on the ground.

Spivey’s defense attorney, Brian Thompson, said the officer acted appropriately in dealing with a potentially armed suspect who led police on a lengthy pursuit, putting lives in danger, and who was resisting arrest. During his opening, he played the video, stopping at points to give a jurors narration of the events.

“When you break it down frame by frame, you will see why Chris did what he did,” Thompson told jurors.

Sprivey, 29, is charged with four counts of second-degree assault and remains suspended with pay from the Baltimore County Police Department. Farrar was convicted of theft and attempting to elude police in the incident. He received a three-year sentence last month.

The Foxtrot video, shot at night, captures the “heat signatures” of the incident, giving a white hue to vehicles and people that emit heat. The video captures a speeding car, and a person jumping out of the car, followed by officers, but the figures are not easily recognizable.

At one point, Farrar is seen slowing down when Spivey approaches. Coffin said Farrar got on the ground to surrender, but Thompson said he was in a defensive position, “ready to fight.” He said it was only after Farrar was in a “ground fighting position,” which officers are trained to treat with caution, that Spivey kicked him, which is a form of restraint during the arrest of a combative suspect.

After another officer got to the scene, the officers still appeared to struggle with Farrar on the ground, which Thompson said was the result of officers attempting to handcuff him as he resisted.

After a third officer arrived at the scene, they were able to handcuff Farrar and pat him down, Thompson said. At this point, Spivey is seen in the videotape leaning over Farrar’s face, which Coffin said was when Spivey spat on Farrar. Thompson, however, said his client was telling Farrar that he would have killed someone with his reckless driving, and that while might have spat while speaking, it was not intentional.

Nero wrote in his report, “While placing the suspect under arrest, one officer appeared to kick the subject in the head area then kick the suspect two more times.”

During cross-examination, Thompson asked how much the officers reviewed the video and whether they watched it at a slower speed, and also asked both officers if they were experts in use of force, which both said they were not.

Nero was acquitted in the Gray case following a bench trial in May 2016. Two other officers were acquitted, and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby dropped criminal charges against the remaining officers later that year.

Nero appeared in court in a navy blue jumpsuit, the standard uniform for aviation officers. He is still assigned to the aviation unit.

Farrar also testified Tuesday.

“I got on the ground. That’s when they came and kicked me,” he said. Farrar said he was not injured, and was not taken to the hospital. He said he did not file a formal complaint with the department but complained about being assaulted to two officers transferring him to the police station after he was arrested.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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