The Baltimore police officer seen pulling his weapon during an arrest in a newly surfaced video has twice been named in high-profile excessive force cases, including the 2013 in-custody death of Tyrone West, a lawyer involved in the West case told The Baltimore Sun.
Also on Thursday, the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said the actions caught on the 45-second video, which captures a 2016 arrest, are “under review.” Baltimore police said last weekend they had launched an internal investigation.
The video shows a Baltimore police officer kneeling on a man lying on the ground, as the officer and a second officer attempt to handcuff the man. As some in the crowd begin yelling, the officer kneeling on the man withdraws his gun from his holster and holds it down by his side, over the man’s head, telling the bystanders, “I strongly suggest you back the [expletive] up.”
Prominent defense attorney Latoya Francis-Williams identified the officer on Thursday as Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz, whom she previously deposed as part of the civil case after the 2013 death of West.
Baltimore police have not publicly identified the officer and have not responded to additional questions about the incident. A Baltimore Police Department employee who was not authorized to speak to the media corroborated the identification.
“Due to the nature of this incident it is currently under review by our Public Integrity Bureau,” the department said in a brief statement Saturday.
The video is also under review by prosecutors, State’s Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Zy Richardson said Thursday. The police union attorney representing rank-and-file officers did not return a phone call seeking comment on the incident.
The video is 45 seconds long and posted to the Instagram account murder_ink_bmore.
Francis-Williams and A. Dwight Pettit represented the family of West, who died in police custody in 2013 after a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. She identified Bernardez-Ruiz from the video and a photo of him, and said there is no doubt that the man on the video is the same officer she deposed in the civil lawsuit.
The West family eventually won two settlements from the city and state totaling $1 million.
Police and witnesses said West fought with officers, but West’s family said the officers beat him to death. The medical examiner’s office ruled that he died because he had a heart condition that was exacerbated by the struggle with police and the summer heat.
Bernardez-Ruiz was one of several officers named in the case, but none were criminally charged. Then State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein said the officers had used “objectively reasonable force.”
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In 2014, an independent review panel found that the officers involved did not use excessive force against West but found that they made errors that “potentially aggravated the situation” and did not follow basic policies.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who ran against Bernstein in 2014 and won, had criticized how Bernstein handled the West case and said there was a lack of “transparency.” But she declined to reopen it after she was elected in 2014.
Just week’s before West’s arrest and death, Bernardez-Ruiz and another officer named in the West case were accused in another excessive force case.
In that case, Abdul Salaam was stopped with his 3-year-old son for alleged seat belt and cellphone violations. Salaam and another officer ended up in a hospital for minor injuries. Salaam filed a civil suit and a jury awarded him $70,000 in damages.
Salaam was particularly upset that the two officers he encountered were still on the street so quickly after West’s death.
“Had they done their investigation like should have, those officers would have been off the street,” Salaam previously said at the time, criticizing the Baltimore police internal investigation. Internal Affairs did not sustain Salaam’s allegation of excessive force by the officers.
City salary records show Bernardez-Ruiz was hired by the department in 2011, and he earned $114,000 last year.