Ex-Baltimore Police officer found guilty of 2nd-degree assault, misconduct for beating captured on viral video
By Juliana Kim
The Baltimore Sun|
Jun 10, 2019 at 8:50 PM
A video surfaced online of a Baltimore police officer repeatedly punching a man. Interim Commissioner Gary Tuggle said that "the officer involved has been suspended while we investigate the totality of this incident."
Baltimore Circuit Judge Yolanda Tanner saw the body camera footage — frame by frame — of then-Baltimore Police Officer Arthur Williams beating a citizen on an East Baltimore sidewalk last summer.
She heard the victim, Dashawn McGrier, and his attorney describe his broken jaw, ribs and other ailments that sent him to the hospital for three days.
She listened as Williams testified that his actions were justified, and refereed as the prosecutor and defense attorneys argued their version of events in sometimes heated exchanges.
And then she spoke.
“I can’t see how any reasonable officer would’ve done what he did,” Tanner said Monday afternoon.
She then found Williams, 26, guilty of second-degree assault and official misconduct, exonerating him of the more serious charge of first-degree assault. From the bench Tanner said Williams’ “repeated blows to McGrier were without justification,” and described the first year officer as lacking in self control.
However, the judge also acknowledged the limitations of body camera videos that made it difficult to get a complete picture of any altercation.
"Everything an officer sees is not shown on the body camera,” Tanner said before ruling, adding there are “some limits of what body cameras can and cannot do.”
She did not explain why she opted only to find Williams guilty on the lesser charge.
Friends and family members of both Williams and McGrier came to the trial. When Tanner announced her verdict, no one in the courtroom appeared satisfied.
Williams remains free on bond pending his August 9 sentencing. The sentence for a second-degree assault, which is classified as a misdemeanor, can range from probation to 10 years in prison.
One of Williams’ attorneys, Thomas Maronick Jr. said the defense will “vigorously try to not have Williams serve time.”
McGrier, who took a break from work to hear the verdict, walked into the courtroom minutes before Tanner’s ruling, in his neon-yellow construction vest.
He declined to comment but Edward Mazyck, a colleague who spoke on McGrier’s behalf , said he was disappointed at the verdict. Still, he hopes it will remind people that “although we’re citizens and we have a police department, officers must abide by the law.”
Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, who participated in an Eastside rally for McGrier last August, said, “Quite frankly, this is just a continuation of officers not being held accountable for their actions.”
Nearly a year after cell phone video of the attack went viral, the four-day trial came to an end as another case of alleged police misconduct begins. A 24-year veteran sergeant was charged last week with misconduct, second-degree assault and false imprisonment after chasing and grabbing a man on May 30.
The altercation between Williams and McGrier was among a string of officer misconduct cases in 2018. It was also the first year that the city enforced the federally mandated consent decree that included reforms for body-worn cameras and use of force tactics.
Video was a crucial element to the trial and the community uproar that followed the incident. Body-camera footage from Williams and a second officer on the scene, Brandon Smith-Saxton, was played repeatedly and dissected to judge Williams’ intention and McGrier’s role in provoking Williams.
As the court reviewed videos from the altercation, McGrier’s mother, Shonda McGrier, kept her head down with her hand covering her eyes.
“Do you believe there’s other ways you could’ve achieved a peaceful outcome then shoving him?” assistant state’s attorney Stephen Trostle asked Williams.
“No sir,” Williams testified.
In his closing statement, Trostle showed a single frame from Saxton’s body camera footage in which both McGrier and Williams had their arms out toward one another. The image showed McGrier’s palm facing out and Williams’ hand in a fist, McGrier’s face disheveled and Williams’ face full of rage.
“All [McGrier] did was block himself, there was no fist,” Trostle said.
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Defense attorney, Henry Roland Barnes, in his closing statement, argued that McGrier’s actions were aggressive and the police department’s use of force policy justifies the actions Williams took to “neutralize the event.”
“Officer Williams had a moment to think and he chose what was reasonable,” Barnes said.
However, Trostle argued Williams failed to use deescalating tactics, although such tactics are a major principle taught at the academy.
“He is told: deescalate, deescalate, deescalate…,” Trostle emphasized, “but he didn’t deescalate. He escalated.”
In her final remarks, Tanner cited Saxton’s body-camera footage, too. However, this time, she referred to a moment minutes after the altercation when his sergeant asked Saxton who was in the ambulance, to which Saxton replied: “The victim.”