Baltimore Police officers largely upheld protesters rights during nightly demonstrations in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, a review by the agency has found.
The police department issued its “Assessment of 2020 First Amendment Protected Activities” report as required as part of a federal consent decree, assessing how officers treated individuals demonstrating in response to Floyd’s death in May and June 2020. The report also looked at the department’s response to protests at Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Baltimore during the Republican National Convention in August last year.
“BPD’s response to protest environments in 2020 was compliant with policy requirements and did not infringe on protesters’ First Amendment rights,” according to the report, which analyzed internal and external complaints, use of force incidents and other measures.
Baltimore and cities across the country experienced prolonged protests and demonstrations following Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. But Baltimore’s gatherings, unlike the others, were largely peaceful, and resulted in comparatively few arrests.
The report evaluated 30 protest-related arrests, six incidents where force was used, as well as a review of 16 random First Amendment related protest interactions. It also examined how the department planned for those events.
By comparison, during the 2015 unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, 235 people were arrested, 20 officers were injured, and nearly 300 businesses were damaged, with about a dozen burned.
Of the 30 protest-related arrests last year, 17 were related to burglaries and destruction of property, mostly to a handful of businesses downtown where the demonstrations concluded. Seven people were charged with failing to obey officers, including one man who was struck by police with a baton, causing him to go to the hospital where he received staples in his head and was diagnosed with a concussion, the report said.
Police previously identified him as Dyllan Hildebrand, 29, of Dundalk. Hildebrand’s charges are no longer listed in online court records, and he has since filed a lawsuit naming the city, the department, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Officer Dean McFadden as defendants.
The report doesn’t name the officer who wielded the baton but says internal charges against the officer were not sustained, meaning the internal affairs could not determine whether misconduct occurred.
“While BWC (body worn camera) footage did show an additional known officer waving his baton, due to the chaotic nature of the event, it could not be determined whether the he actually struck the complainant with the baton,” the report says. “No other evidence allowed for it to clearly be determined whether the officer struck the complainant, and the officer stated that he did not strike the complainant.”
Hildebrand’s father, David Hildebrand, previously told The Baltimore Sun that his son was struck in the head by an officer with a baton because his son didn’t move away from officers quickly enough.
Reached Tuesday, David Hildebrand declined to comment citing the ongoing lawsuit. Neither his son nor his attorney responded to a request for comment.
The report also evaluated an incident of a Baltimore Police officer punching a woman, which was caught on video and later went viral on social media. The woman was later identified as Sharnesha Street. Court documents said Officer Terry Love Jr. struck Street after she struck another office. Street was later charged with assault, and she received probation before judgement.
The report said the officer’s actions were deemed “reasonable, necessary and proportional,” by BPD’s Performance Review Board. It also found that “advanced training was recommended for the backup officer to provide alternative tactics when needing to quickly restrain an actively aggressive subject.”
The report evaluated all 35 disorderly conduct-related arrests in 2020, and found that in each case officers responded properly and did not violate the defendants’ First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
The report also reviewed 13 complaints since 2018 against officers alleging First Amendment violations. For example, one complaint said an officer was unprofessional when he told a woman to stop taking pictures at a crime scene, another accused an officer of issuing a citation for an open container in retaliation to a person criticizing officers at the scene of an arrest.
Nine of those 13 cases have been closed, and only one was sustained and the officer resigned in lieu of termination. Of the four open cases, the report kept information on two cases from May and June of 2019 confidential, citing the ongoing “criminal court process.”
In the one sustained case, officers were conducting a drug stop when a family member of the suspect began arguing with officers.
“After many verbal exchanges, the officer arrested the person for disorderly conduct, and the person yelled that he had a freedom of speech,” the report said.
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The officer, who was not named, was later charged internally with impairing First Amendment rights and false arrest. The charges against the officer were sustained and the officer resigned, according to the report.