A Baltimore police officer has been exonerated of using excessive force in a violent struggle nearly two years ago on McElderry Street that had racial overtones.
After four days of testimony from nearly two dozen witnesses, a Police Department trial board took just an hour yesterday to find Officer Nicholas J. Tomlin innocent of any wrongdoing in the May 1990 incident near Oldtown Mall.
Officer Tomlin, 24, who is white, was accused of using excessive force in the arrest of Robert Washington, 23, who is black.
While on patrol at twilight, Officer Tomlin had spotted a gathering of young people that looked suspicious to him. It was Mr. Washington and several members of a softball team he coached. The young people had just finished practicing and were talking on the sidewalk in the 500 block of McElderry Street.
Officer Tomlin ordered them to stop loitering, and some of the young people resented the order. Words were exchanged between Mr. Washington, who is 5 feet 7 inches tall, and Officer Tomlin, who is a foot taller and much heavier.
They struggled, and Mr. Washington was pushed against a chain link fence, punched, arrested on charges of assaulting an officer, patched up in a hospital emergency room and then jailed.
In filing a complaint of excessive force, Mr. Washington said he was the victim of an unprovoked attack.
But Officer Tomlin insisted all along that Mr. Washington started the fight, resisted arrest and had to be pinned against the metal fence and punched into submission.
The trial board also cleared Officer Tomlin of using profanity, making false statements and misconduct.
The verdict of the three-member trial board was unanimous.
The panel was headed by Maj. Frank Russo, commander of the Central District. The other members were Lt. Leonard J. O'Connor, of Fiscal Affairs, and Officer Allen L. Ringgold, of Community Services.
The trial board's decision hinged on inconsistencies in the testimony of Mr. Washington and eight other prosecution witnesses, all relatives or friends of Mr. Washington.