Prosecutors didn’t say much when the trial of ex-Baltimore Police Officer Arthur Williams began Wednesday. They let two body camera videos speak for them.
The videos showed Williams confronting a man on an East Baltimore sidewalk, grabbing his arm and punching him repeatedly in the face. As a responding medic later wiped blood from the victim’s chin, 26-year-old DaShawn McGrier sobbed and asked a second officer, Brandon Smith-Saxon, “Why’d you let him do that, yo?”
“I’m not the aggressor,” McGrier says in Smith-Saxon’s camera video. “I was minding my business. I’ve never been hit like that by nobody.”
Williams, who resigned from the city police force the day of the incident last August, has pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and misconduct in office. Cellphone footage of Williams punching McGrier in the 2500 block of E. Monument St. went viral and prompted denunciations by city officials, the Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents rank-and-file officers.
McGrier, 26, suffered a fractured jaw and ribs, swelling around his eye and ringing in his ears from Williams’ punches, his attorney has said.
Forgoing his right to a trial by jury, Williams elected to let Baltimore Circuit Judge Yolanda Tanner decide his fate in a bench trial. Neither side gave opening arguments, and the trial began with a video.
Williams wore a dark blue suit, a salmon-colored shirt and striped tie and watched the body camera footage intently with folded hands, occasionally sipping water and resting his chin on his hand.
Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Trostle called two witnesses: a police internal affairs detective who investigated Williams’ use of force, and a woman who said she saw the incident happen from across the street after McGrier’s yells caught her attention.
Internal affairs Detective Sgt. George Stiemly Jr. testified about the department’s use-of-force policies and his observations from the body camera videos.
“In the first 15 seconds or so, I saw Officer Williams stop an individual, a citizen, and put his hands on him when he tried to go about his business,” Stiemly said.
Trostle asked the sergeant what, if anything, the officer did to de-escalate the situation.
“From what I reviewed on the cameras,” Stiemly said, “I did not observe any de-escalation.”
Defense attorneys Thomas Maronick Jr. and Henry Roland Barnes declined to comment Wednesday, but Maronick has previously said the video footage does not tell the whole story. The defense plans to question Stiemly on the stand Thursday.
Deon Curtis, the civilian witness, testified she had just gotten food from a store across the street when she heard McGrier shout, “Don’t push me!”
“The next thing I know he was punching him in the face,” she said, adding: “It was more so like an attack.”
Barnes asked Curtis about initially telling police McGrier was her cousin, which she denied. He asked the 5-foot-1 Curtis to stand up to demonstrate her height, then asked about whether anyone in the angry crowd that gathered around Williams and McGrier blocked her view. She replied that she had a clear view.
Curtis testified that she had walked out just as the incident was unfolding and did not see what led up to it.
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The trial will continue Thursday morning, and a verdict could come as soon as Friday.