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Residents meet, discuss alleged police brutality at arts festival

About 50 people, including witnesses and self-described victims of alleged police brutality at the annual Sowebo Arts Festival, met last night to share stories and discuss possible legal action against the Baltimore Police Department.

But more than anything, they said, they hoped for a culture change within the department, which they said seems to be growing more violent and insensitive.

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"I hope the police get the message that just because someone looks different, they shouldn't be treated this way," said Frantz Walker, 37, a Baltimore resident who told of his brother being allegedly knocked down and arrested after he told police officers to "chill out."

The meeting took place at gallery near Hollins Market, which was the focal point of the arts and music event Sunday.

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Police Agent Sonya Moore and Officer Wanda Cox, of the police department's Community Affairs Division, also attended. They asked those claiming to have seen abuse or those claiming to have been victims to file statements with police investigators who are looking into the allegations.

Many at the meeting were anxious to share witness accounts. Some said they saw officers use a stun gun on a man who was trying to leave the event. Others said they watched as officers threw a pregnant woman to the ground and grabbed an older woman by her hair. Most at the meeting were stunned and disappointed.

"I still don't understand why action was taken [by police] at all," said Kelly Richmond, 26, who helped organize the festival. "It looked like our community was being attacked."

"It was the most horrific experience," said pregnant Keisha Harvin, 29, who told the group of that she was thrown to the ground and spent 28 hours in jail. Harvin was arrested for disorderly conduct. Harvin said police took her to Mercy Medical Center after she started to bleed in jail.

Jeffrey Smith, who witnesses said was shocked with the stun gun, was also at the meeting but declined to speak with reporters on the advice of his attorney, Craig Gendler.

"We are going to fight this," Gendler said earlier in the day. "So many witnesses have already come forward and offered their account of what happened...."

Rafael Solano, 25, who was with Smith, said the man was cooperating with police when he was knocked to the ground and shocked with the stun gun.

Solano said a police report in which an officer described Smith as "belligerent" and disobedient was wrong. The report also stated that Smith was swinging his arms and that he struck a police officer in the shoulder.

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"He wasn't doing any of those things," Solano said. "....

They never told him why they were arresting him."


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