Sgt. Ethan Newberg, 49, a 24-year Baltimore Police Department officer, is being arrested and charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and misconduct. (Phil Davis / Baltimore Sun video)
In one of his early tests as police commissioner of Baltimore, Michael Harrison ordered the arrest of a veteran sergeant and said he was deeply disturbed to see the officer take down a bystander for mouthing off.
The city police union fired back Friday, with the union president calling Harrison’s decision a rush to judgment.
“From what I saw, the man did nothing to provoke Sgt. Newberg, whose actions were not just wrong but deeply disturbing,” Harrison said. “Be tough on crime, but be soft on people.”
On Friday, Dotson was making plans for his upcoming wedding and feeling frustrated over his recent arrest when his phone rang with the news. Criminal charges had been dropped against the 28-year-old from Northwest Baltimore. Instead, police had charged Newberg, the sergeant who brought him to the ground last week.
The police union accused Harrison of taking tougher action against Newberg than the teens who crowded the Inner Harbor last month, some of whom took to fighting and vandalism.
“I was struck by how willing the Commissioner was to condemn an on duty, uniformed Police Sergeant after watching the body worn camera,” wrote Sgt. Mike Mancuso, the union president. “However, about two weeks ago, this same Commissioner would not condemn those who robbed and assaulted innocent citizens at the Inner Harbor, which was also captured on video.”
The encounter between Newberg and Dotson happened May 30. Dotson said he was walking back from a crab carryout — they were sold out of crabs — when he saw that Newberg and another officer had a man in custody in the 2300 block of Ashton St.
“Like he was coming to tackle me,” Dotson said Friday.
Newberg grabbed Dotson by the upper arm, investigators wrote. Dotson yanked his arm away, he said. Then the second officer came up behind him, Dotson said. The two officers brought him to the ground.
“It felt like they were putting knees and feet in my back,” Dotson said. “I’m yelling, like ‘Man, why you locking me up?’”
In the charging documents, investigators wrote that Dotson called out, “Get off of me! Get off of me! I’m suing. It’s freedom of speech. You are violating my amendments.”
A crowd gathered. Some recorded the arrest on their cellphones. Then the officers put Dotson in a van and drove him off. They charged him with disorderly conduct, interfering with an arrest and drug charges. The officers wrote that they found a little bag of suspected cocaine hidden beneath his pants; Dotson declined Friday to discuss the drug charge; prosecutors dropped that charge, too.
In explaining why they charged Dotson, the officers wrote that he interfered with their arrest, incited a hostile crowd and squared off against them in an aggressive and combative stance. Harrison, however, said the footage showed Dotson “walking calmly away after offering his opinion that Sgt. Newberg should have not placed the suspect on a wet sidewalk.”
Prosecutors have thrown out all charges against Dotson.
In the charging documents against Newberg, investigators also wrote that the sergeant became belligerent toward the bystanders, threatening and cursing at them.
“It is also depicted on the body-worn camera that when a Hispanic officer approached Sergeant Newberg and suggested that he ‘relax,’ Sergeant Newberg told the Hispanic officer to never question the way he does things and ordered him to leave the scene, and later called him ‘a kumbaya officer.’”
Newberg is suspended without pay. Harrison said he was tipped off to the incident when the department’s integrity bureau came across the body-camera footage.
Tyenisha McCullough, Dotson’s fiancée, expressed outrage over the incident. “Make sure they charge [Newberg] how they would have charged [Dotson].”
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Council President Brandon Scott both condemned Newberg’s actions.
Newberg was hired in June 1995 and assigned to the Southwestern District.
His case has renewed attention to the high costs of police overtime. The sergeant earned more than double his base salary of $100,000. His pay last year was exceeded only by Sgt. William Harris Jr., who received $250,000 on a base salary of $100,000. City Council members have long called on the police department to rein in overtime spending.
Forty of the 50 highest-paid city employees last fiscal year worked in the police department.