A Baltimore police officer who was caught on video beating a suspect — but remained on the job for three months until the video was publicly revealed — was criminally charged with assault and perjury, city prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Officer Vincent E. Cosom Jr., a seven-year veteran of the force, is shown on city surveillance camera footage launching what appears to be an unprovoked attack on Kollin Truss at a bus stop on East North Avenue.
A surveillance camera operator flagged the footage on the night in June that it occurred, and prosecutors and internal affairs detectives were aware of it, but Cosom was not suspended until Truss' attorneys made the video public last month. Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said he had not been aware of the incident until then, and suspended Cosom on Sept. 16.
In addition to second-degree assault, Cosom was charged with perjury after writing in a statement of probable cause that Truss had assaulted him. All charges against Truss were dropped after prosecutors saw the video evidence.
Although allegations of police brutality and misconduct have led to hundreds of lawsuits since 2011 and the agency's force investigation team is looking into dozens of cases this year, criminal charges against officers — particularly for assault — are rare.
Police said they had been investigating the Truss case from the start, but his attorney Ivan J. Bates said prosecutors and police did not reach out to him until the video went public.
On Wednesday, Bates said he was concerned that two other officers, who he contends failed to intervene, were not charged. Those officers have not been identified by the Police Department.
"For the state not to charge the other two officers really allows Kollin Truss to be victimized again," Bates said. "The state has to give a message to police that if there's one bad apple in the group and the group goes along with it, everybody in the group should be held responsible."
Bates also said he believed Cosom should have been charged with first-degree assault instead of second-degree.
Police declined to comment on the case Wednesday. Attempts to reach Cosom or an attorney were not successful.
The charges against Cosom come amid renewed scrutiny on police and as the Justice Department conducts a review of the department.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Batts announced the review days after The Baltimore Sun published results of an investigation showing that residents have suffered broken bones and battered faces during arrests.
Over the past four years, the city has paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in more than 100 civil suits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. Nearly all of the people involved in incidents leading to those lawsuits were cleared of criminal charges.
Meanwhile, a plan to put body cameras on officers has created a conflict between Rawlings-Blake, who backs the idea but says time is needed to hammer out details, and the City Council, where some members want faster implementation.
Before the charges in the Cosom case were announced, a city street artist who goes by the name Nether put a mural on the bus stop where the assault occurred, hoping to bring attention to what he says was inaction on the city's part. It featured an image of a woman protesting the Ferguson, Mo. police shooting, and text describing the incident with Cosom.
By evening, the city had removed the installation, the artist said.
The Cosom incident occurred June 15, when Truss and his girlfriend, Stephanie Coleman, were on East North and Greenmount avenues. Cosom wrote in a police report that he ordered Truss to leave the area but Truss refused and headed into a liquor store.
Truss exited the store and met again with Cosom. The video shows Coleman trying to get between the two men. Coleman said in an interview last month that she was worried things would get out of control and was trying to intervene.
"I knew once he was harassing us, it was going to end in a big incident," Coleman said, adding that she was scared of Cosom.
Cosom wrote that Truss dropped into a fighting stance and made threats. The video shows Cosom dart around a group of bystanders to get to Truss. Cosom lands a series of blows, including several delivered while another officer restrains Truss against the side of a bus shelter.
Police charged Truss with assault and other offenses, but a prosecutor reviewed the tape and concluded that it contradicted Cosom's account. The case was dropped.
Breaking News Alerts
Batts, Rawlings-Blake and other city leaders denounced Cosom after the video was made public. Rawlings-Blake also called the police handling of the tape "outrageous" and said she was prepared to lead a charge to weaken Maryland's police Bill of Rights, which outlines due process for officers that critics say is too protective of them.
After Truss filed a $5 million lawsuit, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said the city should "just pay the guy" rather than engage in a protracted legal battle.
Police leaders said last month that they planned to take the case to a grand jury, but Cosom was charged through a mechanism called a criminal information, prosecutors said. It allows suspects to be served with a summons and avoid arrest and is often used when officers are charged.
Bates was critical of that decision. "Once again, the police in Baltimore City get preferential treatment," he said.
Prosecutors said the criminal information and an indictment are "functionally equivalent" and noted that misdemeanors are "routinely" charged through criminal information. "It is not limited to cases against police officers," the state's attorney's office said in a statement.
Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.