A Baltimore police officer was convicted this week for lying about an incident in which he appeared to be attacked while making an arrest captured in a viral video last year, sparking outrage from local leaders.
Sgt. Welton Simpson was convicted following a bench trial Monday of giving a false statement to law enforcement and misconduct in office, according to the Baltimore State’s Attorney Office.
Police Commissioner Michael Harrison initially said that Simpson was doing a business check in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania Ave. when a person in the business became argumentative with the sergeant and spat in his face. He and then-Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, then-Council President Brandon Scott, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, and State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby all condemned the video.
Later, defense attorneys for Zayne Abdullah, who had been charged with assaulting Simpson, said the body-worn camera footage did not back up the officer’s claims about what led to the exchange. Body camera footage did not appear to show Abdullah spitting at the officer, who shoved Abdullah and says, “Get out of my face!” The charges against Abdullah were subsequently dropped.
According to the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office, Simpson’s body worn camera had been rolling from a prior vehicle stop and he did not know that his camera caught the initial interactions between him and Abdullah.
Prosecutors said it showed the officer bumping Abdullah in the shoulder and telling him to “move out the [expletive] way.” Prosecutors said there was no evidence that Abdullah spat on him, as Simpson claimed, from the body-worn camera, CCTV footage from the store or CitiWatch cameras.
Simpson also claimed that he told several men loitering in front of the business to move along, but no such interactions occurred, prosecutors said.
“This conviction demonstrates our commitment to ensuring one standard of justice for all — regardless of one’s race, sex, religion, or occupation,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement.
Additional citizen video from when Simpson and Abdullah are struggling on the ground showed Abdullah repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe.” Another man is then seen pulling at Abdullah’s arm in an attempt to free him.
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The earlier viral clip was taken from a different angle of the altercation.
“A government official completely rushed to judgement and completely took the officer’s word for it,” said attorney Malcolm P. Ruff, who is representing Abdullah in a civil case against the city. “We’ve seen time and time again that Baltimore city police officers are raised in a culture where we cannot simply trust them at face value.
“Then have Baltimore officials call you a thug and say your behavior is reprehensible without investigating what happened,” Ruff said.
Ruff said as a result of the charges against him, his client lost a job at H&S Bakery where he was making almost $20 an hour, and ended up spending months in jail during the outset of the pandemic.
Baltimore Police spokeswoman Lindsey Eldridge said Simpson’s police powers remain suspended and he has been assigned to administrative duties, pending an ongoing internal investigation.
Simpson’s sentencing is scheduled for October 21. He faces up to six months in prison for the false statement charge. There is no maximum sentence for the misconduct charge.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.