A former Baltimore Police sergeant who in May pleaded guilty to misconduct in office will avoid a prison sentence.
Ethan Newberg was accused by prosecutors of a series of unjustified arrests in 2018 and 2019, in which the former Southwestern District sergeant would detain bystanders, often those who criticized his police actions or attempted to record him. His actions were derided publicly when he was first criminally charged in 2021 by the then-police commissioner as “not just wrong, but deeply disturbing and illegal.”
On Tuesday, nearly four years after a grand jury issued a superseding indictment with 32 additional charges, Baltimore Circuit Judge Robert Taylor sentenced Newberg to six months of home detention, followed by two years’ supervised probation.
Taylor told Newberg that the interactions highlighted by prosecutors were an example of why it is difficult to seat a jury in Baltimore — so many residents have had negative encounters with police officers, or know loved ones who have. The short-term “relief” that similar actions might provide police, Taylor said, has long-term ramifications for the rest of the criminal justice system.
That kind of conduct, Taylor continued, makes policing harder for fellow officers and sows “contempt” of the system.
Earlier this year, two of the people in the nine interactions that constituted the criminal charges received a settlement totaling $575,000 to resolve their claims of unjustified arrests.
Both men made comments about how Newberg was detaining others, leading to their own detention, according to a federal lawsuit filed in 2021.
Neither spoke in Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, but a third victim of Newberg’s conduct did. That man told the judge that his encounter with Newberg took a toll on his mental well-being and has heightened his awareness of the “potential bias” of law enforcement officers.
Newberg retired from the police force, effective July 1, weeks after he pleaded guilty to misconduct in office, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Police Department confirmed.
Prosecutors requested that Taylor sentence Newberg to 36 months of incarceration, while defense attorney Joe Murtha asked for no jail time.
Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Trostle said that Newberg was requesting “leniency” and “mercy” despite showing neither toward residents he policed in Baltimore. Trostle referenced what he called a “catchphrase” of Newberg’s: “Take your charge.”
“He needs to take his charge,” Trostle said, “and the appropriate sentence that goes with it.”
On Tuesday, Newberg addressed the court and said he was “sorry” to the “individuals involved in this matter” for “not having more patience.” He said he should have ignored their words “instead of reacting to them.”
“I believe if I didn’t react to words directed at myself and my officers, I would not be standing as a [defendant] in this courtroom,” Newberg said. “So, for that, I am sorry.”
He then lamented his 25 years in the Baltimore Police Department were now “defined by a handful of videos,” rather than guns or drugs he’d taken off the streets, lives he said he’d saved or his 10 years as a child abuse investigator.
Newberg also linked his criminal case to officers’ current actions in Baltimore, saying that officers are “not being proactive against crime” because they didn’t want a wrong decision to land them in legal trouble.
He added that he didn’t agree with incarceration for his offense, saying: “I believe jails are for those who are a danger to the community.”
State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, however, in a statement following Newberg’s sentencing, suggested the officer’s actions did, in fact, present a danger to the public.
“The people of Baltimore and the Baltimore Police Department are, undoubtedly, safer because this officer’s actions also put their lives at risk through behavior that can escalate situations and antagonize residents,” Bates said.
The state’s attorney thanked his Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit for “holding this officer accountable for violating the constitutional rights of the very people he swore to protect and serve.”
Newberg was originally charged in 2019 in connection with one arrest, in which a bystander who questioned why Newberg was making a person sit on the wet ground was tackled to the ground and accused of “interfering.” Body camera footage released by the agency revealed the man had been walking away after criticizing police’s decision.
Then-Commissioner Michael Harrison said Newberg was “tarnishing the badge that we all wear,” adding that he was “in charge of the culture” of the interaction as a supervisor.
Months later, he was indicted with a slew of other charges. The state’s attorney at the time, Marilyn Mosby, said prosecutors had identified additional incidents by viewing body camera footage. Trostle, at Tuesday’s hearing, said going through officers’ past interactions is now practice for prosecutors.
If Newberg didn’t like that review of body camera footage, Trostle said, he could “thank the GTTF for that.” The GTTF, or Gun Trace Task Force, was a corrupt unit in Baltimore Police that routinely violated residents’ rights and stole drugs and cash. Hundreds of criminal cases connected to the squad were dropped or vacated; Baltimore has paid out millions of dollars in civil settlements to residents affected by the officers; and members of the task force are serving federal prison sentences.
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The grand jury’s indictment included a quote from Newberg, from a time when he was advising a resident to “mind your business” when he was “conducting police business.”
“I don’t know what your problem is, why you’re testing me,” the indictment quoted Newberg saying. “Do you know me? Have you seen me out here before? Ask around. ... I’m the sergeant they talk about, now you’ve met me. Sgt. Newberg. Now you know me.”
Newberg filed a federal suit in 2022 against Harrison and the officers who arrested him. In a filing late last year, Newberg alleged that the then-commissioner had “basically painted [him] as corrupt and guilty” in the news conference, and that he’d directed officers to “illegally detain him.”
The suit also claimed that Harrison’s “selective viewing and interpretation” of Newberg’s actions were motivated by political gain and in retaliation for Newberg’s overtime payments.
Newberg was the city’s second-highest-paid employee in fiscal year 2017-18, collecting $243,132.32 on a base salary of $99,860, according to the city’s salary database. He was the highest-paid employee the following year, netting $260,775.26 on a base of $107,807.
“After realizing the case against [Newberg] was weak, at Defendant Harrison’s direction, the BPD went on a fishing expedition and went through hundreds of body cam videos ... in search for additional cases against [Newberg] despite that no one had lodged any prior complaints,” it said, later calling Newberg the “only officer that was subjected to having thousands of hours of body cam footage reviewed in a fishing expedition.”
The lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by Newberg on May 14.