Stewart Thrasher loved his job: Patrolling the streets of southeast Baltimore as a decorated cop.
"It was his life," a friend testified yesterday. "Still is."
But Thrasher, in a tight-fitting tweed sports coat, stood up yesterday in a Baltimore courtroom, his head hanging low, a convicted felon awaiting sentencing.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Roger N. Brown gave him a five-year suspended sentence and three years' probation for the brutal beating of a woman during a drug arrest last February.
Before imposing the sentence, the judge said he had to weigh, among other factors, the "potential brutality" a former policeman faces in prison.
Speaking of the woman Thrasher beat,the judge said, "We have a citizen, who as all citizens, must look to the police not only for protection but for that which is right. . . . There is nothing this court can do to take away the scars, physical or emotional, that the victim will have."
The sentence drew angry reactions from the victim, 30-year-old Sharon Hensley, and the union representing city police officers.
"I'm mad because if it had been an average person they would have gotten jail time," said Hensley, her face lined with large scars. "I have scars that I can't afford to have fixed. I have sinus problems. I have medical bills."
She said she has filed a civil lawsuit against Thrasher and the city police department. Her trial on drug charges is set for later this month.
Don W. Helms, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3, predicted yesterday that the Thrasher prosecution will have a chilling effect on the 2,600 police officers the union represents in Baltimore.
"The signal to them is that they're going to have to be more laid back in doing their jobs," he said. "It's a very dangerous situation."
Thrasher, 30, who earned one of the department's highest honors, a bronze star, during his nine years on the job, came close to tears when he addressed the court yesterday. He received the medal after arresting two armed suspects in 1986.
"I know I will not be a police officer," he said, his voice trailing off. "I've learned from this situation. I realize this was a mistake. I have been found guilty and I need to move on."
Thrasher, a patrolman in the Southeast District, has been suspended without pay and also faces departmental charges. Yesterday, his lawyer called six character witnesses, including the defendant's father and sister, who is a state trooper.
"He believed in the system," Robert Thrasher said. "He believed in doing his job. I am proud my son is a Baltimore City police officer."
But Steven N. Leitess, an Anne Arundel County prosecutor who handled the case, said Thrasher betrayed the public trust.
"He was the symbol of law and order," he said. "The community has the right to expect fairness and integrity from its duly sworn protectors, the police -- not viciousness and brutality."
According to testimony, the beating incident occurred about 4 a.m. Feb. 13, when Officer Eugene Cabral Jr. spotted Hensley driving slowly down Ann Street. Her car stopped as she approached the corner of Ann and Gough streets, where a man was standing.
Cabral testified that he called for another unit, turned off the lights in his patrol car and saw Hensley pass money to the man. It appeared to be a drug deal, he said.
Thrasher, who also was on patrol, arrived at the scene and left his car to detain the man who had approached Hensley's car. Thrasher handcuffed the man and walked over to Cabral, who was holding Hensley's hand. Hensley had her fist tightly clenched and refused to open it. She said she wanted to be searched by a female officer.
According to testimony at trial, Thrasher told her: "We are going to search you or I am going to bust your face."
Hensley received four to seven blows to the face, probably with a flashlight, according to testimony. Her sinuses were shattered, and her orbital bones and nose were broken.
After a three-week trial in November, Brown convicted Thrasher of felony assault, assault and two counts of misconduct in office.