Accounts of police racism and brutality arising from the O. J. Simpson and Rodney King cases in Los Angeles prompted the prosecution of an award-winning Baltimore County police officer under Maryland's hate-crime law, hisd Officer William R. Goodman Jr.
Mr. Belsky was referring to the controversy surrounding retired Los Angeles police Detective Mark Fuhrman, a key prosecution witness in the Simpson murder case. Detective Fuhrman's credibility has been under attack for alleged racism and his boasts on tape recordings that he and fellow officers brutalized crime suspects.
But Deputy State's Attorney Sue A. Schenning, who took the Goodman case to the grand jury last week, countered, "We don't file charges in reaction to things that happen across the country. We file cases based on the evidence that's presented to us."
The grand jury last week charged Officer Goodman with three misdemeanors: battery, misconduct in office, and violation of the hate-crime statute -- the first use of the 1988 law against a police officer.
Ms. Schenning would not discuss particulars of the case, saying, "That's what trials are for."
According to police accounts, Officer Goodman was working the Essex Precinct desk July 29 when a cadet had trouble booking Melvin Maddox, a black man arrested for failing to appear in court on a pending drug charge.
Officer Goodman, who is white, was alleged by police to have pushed Mr. Maddox into a wall, causing him to fall. The prisoner was kicked while he was on the floor, and racial epithets were shouted at him, according to a police spokesman, Capt. Brian A. Uppercue.
But Martin H. Schreiber II, Mr. Maddox's criminal defense attorney, said the incident was worse than the police account. Mr. Maddox was treated overnight at Franklin Square Medical Center, and returned for treatment twice the next day.
"He was severely beaten," the lawyer said. "He's still suffering physically. His head was shoved against a table, against several walls. We don't know whether he was punched or kicked in the back. He was punched in the body and dragged through the station house in the [ankle] shackles, and kicked further."
During the incident, he said, Mr. Maddox was called " 'You black n----- SOB,' and on and on and on ... It was the 'n' word.
"It was more than just being thrown against a wall," he said. "You've got to believe that Sue Schenning is not going to prosecute a police officer for banging somebody against the wall."
Mr. Maddox, 24, of the 1400 block of Hadwick Drive in Essex, still faces trial on the drug charges, Mr. Schreiber said, and has been told not to discuss the case. He has been physically unable to return to his construction job, the lawyer said.
"We're concerned about his safety," Mr. Schreiber said. "He is not, as a result of this incident, a real popular fellow -- certainly among the police." Mr. Maddox has not filed any civil action against the police, he said.
Baltimore County police have refused to release a report on the alleged attack on Mr. Maddox, claiming it is a personnel matter.
Officer Goodman, 34, a bicycle patrolman, received numerous awards in his nine years on the force. Newspaper articles noted his friendliness to neighborhood children. One article reported his challenging black students to bring up their grades -- and then rewarding them with a trip to the National Aquarium.
A check of Mr. Maddox's criminal record showed an assortment of charges -- most of them minor -- including drug possession, a threat of arson, trespassing and petty theft.
Mr. Belsky, whose firm has represented police officers in the Baltimore area for 15 years, said, "I think that two things have happened to destroy respect for police officers throughout the country.
"No. 1 is the Rodney King case, and the other one is Mark Fuhrman."
According to Mr. Belsky, the only other case brought under Maryland's 1988 hate-crime statute involved a private citizen accused of burning a cross in Harford County.
"The race charge we deny," Mr. Belsky said. "Under the statute, it must be the motivating factor in the crime." Even if all the charges were true, he said, the law requires that the crime be committed because of the victim's race, religion or national origin. Uttering epithets in the course of an incident would not meet this requirement, he said.
Capt. Thomas G. Burke, the Baltimore County police internal affairs commander, said police brutality complaints in the county have been decreasing steadily since 1991 -- when they reached an all-time high of 99.
He said 1991's unusual number might have been a result of the Rodney King incident, in which police officers were filmed beating King, a black driver, in Los Angeles that April.
Since that time, he said, the numbers have gone down: 66 complaints in 1992; 50 in 1993; 44 in 1994; and 36 from January to Aug. 1 of this year.
No county officer has been fired for brutality, Captain Burke said.
Officer Goodman denied last week that he had beaten Mr. Maddox or uttered racial epithets, but would not discuss the case further.