A Baltimore judge threw out the charges Thursday against a city police officer accused of assaulting a shopper who refused to wear a mask at a grocery store when face coverings were required as a mitigation measure against the then-brand-new coronavirus.
Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Schiffer found there was not enough evidence to support the charges against Detective Andre Pringle, 47, and dismissed the case before rendering a verdict, granting what’s known as a motion for a judgement of acquittal raised by Pringle’s lawyer.
Prosecutors had charged the almost-25-year Baltimore Police Department veteran with misdemeanor assault and misconduct in office. The case against Pringle followed his encounter with a man at the Shoppers grocery store at Mondawmin Mall in April 2020, about a month into the coronavirus pandemic.
Pringle’s attorney, Andrew I. Alperstein, said Schiffer’s ruling amounted to a complete rejection of the allegations and prosecutors’ decision to charge.
“She threw the case out in the middle of it and she commented that Detective Pringle had exercised incredible restraint by not dealing with this guy sooner,” Alperstein said. “It’s just a shame to me that he had to go through the stresses of him being charged and the stresses on his family.”
Alperstein said police packed the courtroom, while Pringle anxiously awaited a resolution.
“It was pretty dramatic,” Alperstein said. “He was crying. The whole courtroom erupted when the judge ruled.”
Brandon Walker, then 25, walked into a store wearing his mask on top of his head and refused to pull it down when employees and a security guard repeatedly asked him to, according to Pringle’s indictment. Pringle was summoned to escort Walker out.
Walker was yelling and cursing at Pringle while being led from the store, when the two stopped in a vestibule, prosecutors wrote. Pringle shoved Walker, causing him to hit his head on the concrete.
“Everybody else in this Shoppers food market is doing their business and this guy turned on my client and the officer pushed him one time and the victim tried to hit my client with a crutch,” Alperstein said. “He actually admitted on the witness stand today that he actually tried to hit the officer in the head with a crutch.”
At the time, emergency orders from Gov. Larry Hogan and Mayor Brandon Scott mandated face coverings in indoor public spaces because of the emergence of COVID-19. Walker pleaded guilty to one count of violating an emergency order. He was granted a probation before judgement, with six months of unsupervised probation.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby decried the officer’s actions as unacceptable in a statement released around the time of his indictment.
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“This indictment alleges actions that we simply cannot tolerate or accept from those that are sworn to protect and serve the citizens of this city,” Mosby said at the time.
But Alperstein contends prosecutors shouldn’t have charged the case to begin with.
“This is not a bad policeman. This is not someone with a record of excessive force,” Alperstein said. “He’s somebody who’s dedicated his life to keeping people safe and then he gets charged with a case that is not provable.”
A state’s attorney’s office spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Walker, 27, could not be reached for comment. Online records show he is being held in jail pending trial on assault and gun charges in Baltimore.
Alperstein said his client felt Schiffer’s ruling validated that he did nothing wrong.
“My client is very relieved,” the defense attorney said. “He’ll be celebrating with his family privately tonight and getting his first good sleep in a very long time.”