The Baltimore County Police Department is investigating the arrest of a 15-year-old at a public library last week after a witness alleged that an officer used excessive force.
Two Baltimore County officers responded to a call for trespassing at the Woodlawn branch of the Baltimore County Public Library at 2:18 p.m. Thursday, police said.
Salaam Ismial, director of the New Jersey youth and family advocacy organization National United Youth Council Inc., said he was using a computer there Thursday afternoon when a group of students from nearby Woodlawn High School entered the library.
“All of a sudden I looked at the computer, I looked back up, and the cops are on top of this kid on the floor wrestling with him,” Ismial said.
Ismial took photos and recorded a video of police after they handcuffed the teen, which he posted on Facebook. He also filed a complaint with the police department.
Police spokesperson Joy Stewart said in an email Tuesday that the incident is under review by the department’s Internal Affairs Division.
The 15-year-old was arrested for trespassing, Stewart said, and officers later released him to a parent’s custody.
“The big talk is de-escalating, that’s the talk around the nation. I’ve seen none of that. That’s the big hurtful thing. That kid probably weighed 125, 130 [pounds] soaking wet,” Ismial said. “There’s got to be a better way of doing this. All this is going to do is get cops in trouble and get kids hurt.”
Police have responded to 13 calls for trespassing at the library since January.
Baltimore County Public Schools spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala wrote in an email that she was not aware of any ongoing issues involving students at the library and referred other questions to police.
“I want the police to address that situation with that officer and hopefully come up with a plan that is comprehensive enough so the library staff don’t have to resort to the police every time there’s a problem with the kids,” Ismial said.
Baltimore County Public Library spokesperson Emily Williamson said in a statement that the teen was previously banned from the library for violating its rules of conduct. Library staff called county police to enforce the ban, the statement said.
“When officers arrived, staff allowed them to take control of the situation. We will cooperate with Baltimore County Police in their investigation,” the library’s statement said.
Williamson said in an email that most patrons respect the library’s space and its rules.
“It is not routine to ban customers, however, it does happen in rare situations,” she wrote. “While it is not routine to call on BCPD to enforce every ban, there are some situations where this is necessary. "
Under state reforms implemented this summer in Baltimore County, a new civilian committee reviews all internal investigations of complaints against police from members of the public. The committee determines whether officers should be charged administratively for violating department policies and recommends discipline.
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The county’s Administrative Charging Committee, which has reviewed three complaints so far, also can refer a case back to the police department for further investigation.
“Out of those three, three were not administratively charged, two were exonerated, and one was neither unfounded nor exonerated,” Elizabeth Dishon-Feuer, a charging committee member, told the Police Accountability Board at a meeting Monday.
None of the complaints involved the use of force, she said.
Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown branch of the NAACP, said in a statement Friday that the arrest “was difficult to watch,” but urged the community to allow the police department to investigate the incident.
“We don’t want to see anyone in that situation. But I’m not really sure what we want our police to do,” Coleman said in an interview Tuesday.
He said his organization is typically concerned with police stopping Black Americans for no reason but, in this situation, police had no choice but to arrest the teen after he ignored officers’ commands.
“If people don’t like it, people should try to change the policy, but let Internal Affairs investigate, see where we are,” Coleman said.
This article has been updated to correct that Gboyinde Onijala is a Baltimore County Public Schools spokesperson. Also, due to a source error, a previous version of this article included an incorrect number for police calls for trespassing this year at the Woodlawn Branch of the Baltimore County Public Library. The Sun regrets the errors.