Baltimore County police officer accused of assaulting suspect defends actions at trial

A Baltimore County police officer testified Wednesday that he kicked a suspect out of concern for his and other officers' safety, and denied spitting on the man as he lay on the ground handcuffed.

Officer Christopher M. Spivey is charged with four counts of second-degree assault in connection with the Jan. 25 arrest of 20-year-old Diamontae Tyquan Farrar, who had led police on a chase in a stolen vehicle and then tried to flee.

Spivey, 29, has been with the department for about nine years and was previously assigned to the Woodlawn precinct. He was suspended with pay from the department after the incident. Farrar was convicted of theft and attempting to elude police in the incident. He received a three-year sentence last month.

On Wednesday in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Spivey described chasing Farrar into a dark parking lot. As he rounded a corner, fearing Farrar might be armed, the officer said he made a quick decision to run toward Farrar and kick him to keep him from reaching for a possible gun or other weapon.

Farrar was “giving me a posture consistent with somebody who’s not ready to give up,” Spivey said, describing how Farrar was facing him and standing. “I needed to deliver a physical strike. … I had no idea who this guy was,” or whether he was armed.

But Deputy State’s Attorney Robin S. Coffin said during opening statements Tuesday that Spivey acted “without hesitation” and charged at Farrar, who was getting onto the ground to surrender.

A Baltimore police helicopter assisting in the pursuit captured the incident on video.

Coffin asked Spivey why he did not report the use of force. Coffin noted that the incident report from the arrest did not mention the use of force or that Farrar had resisted arrest.

“You used force. That force needed to be documented,” Coffin told Spivey.

Spivey said he reported it to his supervisor, but that he was not the officer responsible for writing the incident report.

Coffin also called an officer from the county department’s internal affairs division on Wednesday, who interviewed Farrar several days after he had been arrested. He said Farrar told him he had been struck, kicked and spat on.

Farrar testified Tuesday that he was getting on the ground when the officer kicked him and later spat on him.

Defense attorney Brian Thompson asked Farrar whether he could have been mistaken, that Spivey could have accidentally spit while admonishing him after the chase. He said he could have been mistaken.

On the stand, Spivey denied spitting on Farrar. He said he might have gotten spit on him while he was speaking, or it could have been sweat after he had chased Farrar on foot.

The video from the Baltimore police helicopter appears to show Farrar stop running and an officer running up to him and kicking him in the upper body. Later in the video, an officer identified as Spivey appears to bend over Farrar.

“While placing the suspect under arrest, one officer appeared to kick the subject in the head area then kick the suspect two more times,” wrote a city police officer who rode in the helicopter that captured the arrest.

Baltimore officers Edward Nero and John Bilheimer testified Tuesday that they were concerned about the video and felt compelled to report it to their supervisors. Nero was one of the six Baltimore police officers charged and acquitted in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray, though he still faces a departmental hearing in that case.

The defense called two other county police officers who helped arrest Farrar, including officer Tyler Wise, who said he did not see Spivey spit on Farrar.

Charles "Joe" Key, a retired city police lieutenant who wrote the Baltimore Police Department's general orders on the use of force, testified that Spivey and the other responding officers acted as any “reasonable” officer would in a similar situation, and was within the county’s policy on the use of force.

After the lengthy chase, he said, officers are trained to assume a suspect is armed and dangerous until they are handcuffed. Key noted that the video captured by the city police helicopter did not have sound and was captured from 1,000 feet above, and could not provide a full picture of the incident.

On cross examination, Coffin asked if Farrar did not display the body language of a submissive person.

“He was ordered to get on the ground and put his hands to the side, is that not what he did?” Coffin said. But Key said Farrar still potentially posed a threat when he got on the ground in a push-up position because his hands could still reach for a weapon or he could push off the ground and continue to run.

Closing arguments are expected to begin Thursday morning before the case is sent to the jury.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

twitter.com/janders5

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