As protesters called Monday for the firing and prosecution of a Baltimore police officer caught on tape punching a woman in the face, the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby already had decided he would not be criminally charged.
Mosby’s office determined the officer had the legal right to defend a fellow officer the woman struck, but she called for the Baltimore Police Department to conduct an internal review and stressed he “could have used alternatives” to apprehend her.
“Deciding not to charge because the conduct was within what the law allows does not mean that we endorse the Involved Officer’s conduct,” Mosby’s office wrote in a report. “BPD should train officers to exercise restraint in every situation, even those where Maryland law allows less restraint than we would prefer to see.”
The woman’s attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, was unsurprised by Mosby’s decision. He said the officer deserved to be charged, but it’s more important that the officer to be released from the force.
The Baltimore Police Department said Saturday that the officer had been placed on administrative leave, pending its investigation into the incident captured on social media. Video from the incidents shows a woman striking an officer twice before another officer comes up from behind her and hits her with a closed fist, sending her sprawling on the pavement. On Tuesday, the department released body camera footage from two officers, and said the incident remains under an internal investigation.
According to the report from Mosby’s office, the woman had driven her vehicle twice at the officer she later punched.
While the report does not name the two officers, court documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun identify the officer who the woman struck as Sgt. Graig Higley and the officer who punched the woman as Officer Terry Love Jr. The woman was arrested and taken to a hospital. Love filed the charges.
Sharnesha Street, 43, of Baltimore, faces two counts of second-degree assault related to the incident. Police wrote in charging documents that Street spit on and hit Higley, leading to the two charges.
On an evening when thousands demonstrated in Baltimore against police brutality, more than 100 people gathered outside East Baltimore’s Douglass Homes to protest Friday night’s incident. Protesters called on the officer who struck Street to be “fired and jailed.”
“Shame on you!” they chanted.
The State’s Attorney’s Office released its investigative report Monday. It typically can take months for the office to produce such reports.
In a statement, Zy Richardson, spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office, wrote that “while we strongly disagree with the action the Officer took, it does not rise to the level of illegality.”
“The Officer had other options he could have pursued to de-escalate the situation rather than striking the woman with a closed fist, and we recommend that [the Baltimore Police Department] review this officer’s conduct in the immediate instance, consider his past record of conduct, and take appropriate internal action,” Richardson wrote.
The video, narrated by Deputy Police Commissioner Brian Nadeau, said that officers were on the lookout for a back Chevy Impala that had been driving in the area. The video first shows footage from Higley’s camera that shows the vehicle approach the officer on Baltimore Street.
Nadeau says the vehicle comes through the intersection, near the officer, and then does a U-turn around the officer, and stops. Higley and another officer then approach the vehicle with their guns drawn.
Street then gets out of the driver seat and sits on the ground, and the officers walk up.
“Don’t touch me,” she said. Then, she continues to yell, “I feel attacked” multiple times. Then she tells the officer “touch me," as he began to reach toward her.
“If you don’t violate my rights, I’m not going to violate yours,” Street tell him. Higley responds, “you tried to hit me with your car.”
“Cause you were in the way,” she tells Higley.
“It’s blocked,” Higley said of the intersection.
“You’re stupid, don’t talk to me,” Street tells Higley. He then reaches to grab her left arm to take her into custody when she strikes Higley twice. Officer Love can then be seen walking up from behind Street, striking her, and causing her to fall to the ground.
At this point, the crowd of nearby protesters can be heard shouting. Other officers approach and a few people come to question the officers.
“She punched me in the face twice” Higley shouts to one of them. Street continues to remain flat on the street. He taps her on the shoulder, telling her to put her hands behind her back and he proceeds to handcuff her.
At that point, Nadeau narrates that the transport vehicle arrives but the officers are waiting for a medic.
Higley and another officer attempt to pick Street off the ground, and she tells them, “get off of me. You are violating my rights."
The video compilation then shows footage from Officer Inmer Berrio’s body worn camera, another backup officer at the scene. It shows “the officers taking control of the scene,” Nadeau said.
Love can be send walking over and putting his hand up as a bystander walks up to the officers.
The state’s attorney report Street ran a red light, and headed toward an officer on foot
“Officer #1 put his hands up in an attempt to get the vehicle to stop because the light was red,” Mosby’s office wrote. “At that time, the vehicle accelerated towards Officer #1, who moved out of the way to prevent being hit.”
The report alleges the woman then made a u-turn and “proceeded towards Officer #1 again,” prompting the two officers in the video to draw their firearms and order the woman out of the car. When she got out, she told the officers “shoot me” before sitting on the ground.
The woman also spat at “Officer #1” and thrust her hands toward him, the report says. While he was able to grab her arm, the report says she broke free and struck him in the face at least twice.
Then the other officer walked up behind the woman and struck her in the face with a closed fist, sending her to the ground.
Mosby’s office wrote that it was reasonable for the second officer to believe the first officer’s safety was at risk and his use of force was legally justified, given that the woman previously tried to run over the officer and continued to strike him.
While the report says the factors surrounding the incident justify the use of physical force to defend the other officer, the office’s decision “does not mean” that the officer’s conduct “was exemplary.”
“The Involved Officer could have used alternatives involving less force to accomplish the lawful end of restraining the involved citizen,” the office wrote.
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Gordon, who is representing Street, said Monday that Love should be charged — but he’s not surprised at the decision of the prosecutor’s office. Historically, few police officers are criminally charged. However, he said, Love should not be working as a police officer and the incident highlights the issues around how police respond to individuals.
“The best way he could think of to control that situation was to deck her?” Gordon said of the officer’s response. “He took a cheap shot, laid her down and walked off. All he had to do was restrain her.”
Gordon noted other officers on the scene, including the officer who was struck, did not have the same reaction.
Love, who was hired by the department in October 1999, made $96,970 in fiscal year 2019, according to city salary records. Higley, who was hired in April 2007, made $115,875 in fiscal year 2019.
In 2009, Love was acquitted of assaulting a man outside a Govans barbershop, but was put on a “do not call” list by state prosecutors, who said they could not trust him to tell the truth if placed on the witness stand.
A spokesman for the department declined Monday to comment on the state’s attorney’s review or its recommendations.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson and Justin Fenton contributed to this article.