City police officer acquitted of beating teen-age bus rider


A Baltimore police officer has been acquitted in Baltimore County Circuit Court of charges that he pulled a teen-ager off a school bus in the county last year and beat him.

Officer John C. Fletcher Jr., a 21-year veteran assigned to the Tactical Squad, was acquitted Thursday of a charge of battery after a Circuit Court jury deliberated less than half an hour.

The matter had been appealed to the Circuit Court after a District Court judge in Owings Mills found Officer Fletcher guilty during a hearing in January and placed him on two years' supervised probation.

His attorney, Henry L. Belsky, said Officer Fletcher had been offered probation before judgment during pretrial negotiations at the lower court but declined in order to reserve the right of appeal.

Officer Fletcher testified that he was driving his white Honda on Patterson Avenue near Reisterstown Road on May 31, 1990, when someone threw a plank from a passing school bus, breaking the windshield of his car and causing a large dent.

The officer, who was off-duty at the time, said he pursued the bus and stopped it, then ordered the driver to keep all passengers on the vehicle so that he could find out who had damaged his car.

One of the youths -- who was 14 at the time -- said he was grabbed by the throat and punched several times by the officer; the mother of another youth on the bus contended that she witnessed a second attack on the same youth by the officer.

Officer Fletcher denied striking the youth or using excessive force, and contended that he only grabbed the youngster while acting in self-defense because he thought the youngster was going to attack him.

A forensic pathologist who examined photographs of the injured youth taken by police immediately after the incident testified during Thursday's hearing that the teen-ager had suffered only minor scratches, and no other injuries consistent with a beating about the face.

Mr. Belsky, an attorney for the city Fraternal Order of Police, said he was concerned that the veteran officer was prosecuted and at risk of losing his job and pension because he attempted to make an arrest.

"Every time they make an arrest, they have to face this same problem," the defense attorney said.

Isaiah Dixon III, the prosecutor, said that he was "disappointed" at the jury's decision and believes that Officer Fletcher "used excessive force. It's [still] the state's contention that it was an unprovoked attack. I don't think he used good judgment.

"He is a veteran officer trained to use restraint."

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