When Baltimore police Sgt. Ethan Newberg told fellow officers to arrest a bystander who criticized their tactics as they detained another man, the 24-year veteran of the department said the pedestrian had been “interfering.”
Body camera footage from the May 30 incident released Friday by the Baltimore Police Department paints a starkly different picture of what happened before the bystander, Lee Dotson, was placed in handcuffs.
Newberg, 49, is charged with assault, false imprisonment and misconduct after chasing and grabbing Dotson, who had commented on police arrest tactics as they detained another man on a warrant check in the 2300 block of Ashton Str. The sergeant is suspended without pay.
Newberg’s attorney, Joseph Murtha, sent a letter Friday to Commissioner Michael Harrison protesting the release of the footage.
“There is no constructive purpose for the dissemination of the … footage before trial,” Murtha said.
Newberg was the second-highest-paid city employee in fiscal year 2018 after making $243,000 — more than half that thanks to overtime.
A subordinate officer to Newberg, who police declined to identify Friday, was suspended with pay while police investigate his role in the incident.
In the footage captured on both officers’ body cameras, Dotson can be seen walking away from police while criticizing their decision to make a suspect sit on a wet sidewalk. Newberg starts to run toward Dotson, who reacts by saying “I’m not running away” and tells the sergeant to get off him.
The second officer then tackles Dotson to the ground, while the man shouts that he was exercising free speech and that the officers were violating his constitutional rights.
When more police officers arrive at the scene, Dotson is brought back to his feet and asks officers why he is being arrested.
“Just go to jail and take your charge like a man,” Newberg says in the footage.
Dotson again asks why he’s being arrested.
“Because you don’t know how to act,” Newberg says.
Police took Dotson to central booking, but prosecutors quickly dropped all charges after reviewing his case.
The footage indicates that the man who had been forced to sit on the pavement had committed no crime but had been stopped on a warrant check. He was released at the scene, police said Friday.
Harrison said Friday that the incident was an example of a “horrible culture” in the Baltimore Police Department, which has faced criticism for some officers’ behavior toward the public. The commissioner said he was cautious but interested to know how pervasive that culture may be within the department.
“That officer is tarnishing the badge that we all wear,” Harrison said of Newberg.
“He’s the person in charge of the culture, because he’s the supervisor on the scene,” the commissioner said. “He’s the person who’s supposed to be motivating, coaching, cultivating and developing young subordinates into the right way of policing.”
In another moment captured on camera, a third officer, who Harrison said was a subordinate from a different unit, approaches Newberg and tells the sergeant to relax.
“Leave my scene,” Newberg says. “Don’t you ever tell me how to do my job.”
Newberg later appears to crack jokes about the officer’s attempt to calm him.
“You can take your hand-holding somewhere else,” he says. “This is police work.”
Harrison announced the charges against Newberg on June 10, while also saying that all charges against Dotson were dropped.
Less than 24 hours later, Baltimore Police arrested Dotson again, this time on charges of drug possession and obstruction. Police pulled him over because they said he had window tint that was too dark and that his license plate was “positioned in an unusual manner.” After the stop, police said they smelled marijuana and searched his car.
Police now say they did not find marijuana during the search. Police said they did find seven grams of crack cocaine on him and 172 individual packages of the drug, and charged him with drug possession.
Newberg’s arrest marks the first test to Harrison’s new policy for arrests captured by police body cameras, which allows him a week to decide whether to publicly release footage.
Although the department hasn’t had a formal policy for years, previous commissioners have consistently opted to release video footage after police-involved shootings or major incidents, often within days of the incident. Harrison will now seek input from federal and local prosecutors, and the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights when deciding whether to release footage publicly, he said.
A previous version of this article misstated the way officers characterized Dotson’s window tint. They wrote that the amount of light passing through his windows did not meet legal requirements.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Phil Davis and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.