A Baltimore Police officer responded to an assault call in August 2020 on a leafy Northeast Baltimore street, where a man lay bloodied on the ground. The officer’s body-worn camera shows him clutching a notepad, attempting to question another man at the scene, who begins kicking the victim in the head.
Over a year later, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office would charge Officer Christopher Nguyen, a nearly two-year veteran of the force at the time of incident, with reckless endangerment and misconduct in office after prosecutors said he failed to secure the suspect he was attempting to question.
The incident has sparked outrage from the police union, which said the officer should not be criminally charged.
The Baltimore Sun reviewed Nguyen’s body-worn camera footage this month, which showed the sudden and brief encounter.
The footage shows Nguyen, 25, arriving on the scene and speaking to Kenneth Somers, 40, who is waiting in the street by his pickup truck. Somers tells Nguyen that a man stole the vehicle from his business, Crazy Kenny’s Junk Cars in the Belair-Edison neighborhood, and he had tracked the car to Kolb Avenue, where he confronted him. Somers pulled the man from the car and beat him up, according to charging documents.
The video shows the man lying in the grass nearby, outside the sedan he allegedly had taken from Somers. Somers is seen walking up to the victim, leaning over him and talking to him as Nguyen moves closer.
“Hey, can you see that? Can you see? So you can remember me,” said Somers, before kicking the man in the head in a brief interaction.
“That’s enough,” said Nguyen, as he steps toward Somers to intervene.
Officer Franklin Phipps walks Somers to a nearby police cruiser, where the officers search and handcuff him.
Nguyen can be heard in the footage referring to the man pulled from the car as the suspect throughout the video.
The police department and state’s attorney’s office have declined to release the footage, citing the pending case against the officer. The footage was made available to The Sun by Somers’ defense attorney, Stephen Patrick Beatty.
Beatty said his client, who faces a possible life sentence for attempted murder, was overcharged because of misconduct by the police that day. He said his client’s response was an act of self-defense.
“The only reason my client is charged is because he was able to defend himself effectively,” Beatty said.
According to the charging documents against Somers, Somers pulled a man from the car and beat him up. The man, who was not charged in the incident, was left with three stab wounds to his face and head. Nguyen wrote in the charging documents that the officers did not know what weapon was used to injure the man but that a pocket knife was recovered from the scene.
The charging documents don’t say which of the men had the pocket knife, or what caused the injuries to the victim’s face and head.
The body camera footage shows Phipps remove the pocket knife from the victim’s waistband and toss it nearby onto the ground. Beatty said his client had no weapons on him that day.
Beatty argues that officers used the knife, and the man’s injuries, to imply that Somers was the aggressor so they could make him look more dangerous, covering up the fact that they failed to secure Somers before the kick.
“In this case, Officer Nguyen who has been charged, makes a mistake [by not securing Somers], and Officer Phipps compensates to mitigate some of the trouble Nguyen is in,” he said.
Nguyen’s police powers have been suspended and the department’s internal affairs unit is investigating. Nguyen’s attorney, Chaz Ball, did not respond to a request for comment. Phipps was not charged.
Spokeswomen for the Baltimore Police Department and State’s Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the video, citing the ongoing investigations.
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Before the officers arrived on the scene, Beatty said Somers asked for his car back, and as the man attempted to back away, the two got into a physical confrontation. As they fought, Beatty said they fell into the car’s back seat, where his client grabbed a mirror and an air refresher can and hit the man in the face.
Beatty questions why the officers left the knife on the ground, and why they did not document it fully.
The actions, he said, were “to make the case against my client look worse and less like self-defense,” Beatty said.
Asked why Somers did not call police to report the missing vehicle instead of confronting Brown, Beatty replied: “My client runs a business in a neighborhood where you don’t last long if you call police.”
The president of the police officers’ union criticized the charges against Nguyen.
“[W]e no longer know what we can and can’t do,” said Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, in a statement.
He defended the officer’s actions, noting that when Nguyen first arrived on the scene, he asked questions and no crime had been committed in the officer’s presence. After the kick, Mancuso said, “a crime had now been committed in the presence of the officer and the individual was immediately placed under arrest.”