Baltimore County will pay $630,000 to the then-76-year-old woman thrown to the ground during an arrest at her home in January 2020.
Cellphone video capturing an officer tackling Rena Mellerson, of Gwynn Oak, sparked public outrage and both criminal and administrative investigations of officer conduct — with the chief of police calling the footage “unsettling to watch” when it surfaced in 2020.
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger said Tuesday his office had reviewed the criminal investigation and determined no criminal charge would be filed. The police department said the administrative investigation into potential policy violations had concluded but declined to provide the outcome, instead requesting a reporter file a public records request. It confirmed both officers were still employed.
A federal lawsuit filed in 2021 concluded on Friday, court records show.
Attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said the $630,000 settlement represented “the justice [Mellerson] was looking for.” An additional $15,000 each will go to the guardians of two children who were at the home.
Gordon declined comment on Mellerson’s behalf, but said she recovered quickly from her injuries and was satisfied with the settlement, which was signed by the plaintiffs in June.
“She understands it’s not an indictment of the entire police department” and that the case only reflects the behavior of two of its officers, Gordon said.
Police spokeswoman Joy Stewart said in an emailed statement “this incident illustrates the importance of continuing to focus our training efforts on deescalation and effective communication.” Everyone, she said, deserves to be treated with “dignity and respect.”
Erica Palmisano, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., echoed the importance of treating residents with dignity and added: “We remain fully committed to strengthening the relationship between our police department and the communities they serve.”
According to police, an officer arrived at Mellerson’s home in the 7000 block of North Alter Street on Jan. 10, 2020, to arrest her granddaughter for disorderly conduct during a previous interaction.
Body camera footage released by the department shows tensions escalated at the front door of the home — Mellerson’s granddaughter refused to exit; the officer used pepper spray and fired his Taser unsuccessfully, then drew and pointed his handgun at the door he said closed on his foot.
He eventually entered the home and pulled Mellerson outside. A second officer then ran up to her and threw her to the ground.
The original officer can be heard telling the other to “be easy with her.”
The footage shows she was barefoot outside, where there was snow on the ground. She can be seen in handcuffs trying to ensure the children who were at the home during the arrest have someone to watch them.
A lawsuit filed by Gordon, who represented Mellerson and the two children at the home, identifies the two officers as Cpl. Sean D. Brennan and Officer Brian Schmidt.
A county salary database says Brennan collects an $85,047 annual salary and Schmidt $67,832.
Brennan was the police officer attempting to arrest Mellerson’s granddaughter, Cierra Floyd. Schmidt threw Mellerson to the ground.
The lawsuit argued Brennan used excessive force and committed unlawful assault and battery on Mellerson, the two children and others in the home when he drew and pointed his weapon and when he “indiscriminately deployed OC spray and his department-issued tazer.” It says the spray contacted the two children, causing temporary respiratory complications.
It also argued officers had no legal justification for arresting Mellerson, and that she was assaulted, in violation of her rights, because at the time she was “attacked” by Schmidt, she was cooperating and posed no threat.
“Even more egregious, after handcuffing Mellerson and removing her from the cold, hard, wet ground, Officer Schmidt forced her to walk barefooted for a while,” the suit said.
Mellerson was initially charged with second-degree assault, obstructing and hindering and resisting or interfering with the arrest of her granddaughter, police said. The charges were dropped by prosecutors by mid-March 2020.
Floyd, Mellerson’s granddaughter, ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of disorderly conduct and was granted probation before judgment, court records show. She was initially charged with other offenses, including second-degree assault on law enforcement, failure to obey a lawful order, second-degree assault and resisting and interfering with an arrest.
Body camera footage previously released by Baltimore County Police showed a verbal altercation between Brennan and Floyd at an earlier scene police responded to for a report of a child damaging vehicles. Police previously released a 911 call prompting their arrival in which a caller said “somebody better hurry up before I cut this little boy.”
In the body camera footage, Floyd swears at Brennan and expressed frustration with the child. Both Floyd and Brennan shout at one another, with Brennan telling her she was “becoming a problem” and would be arrested.
Charging documents indicated Brennan used a Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration database to identify Floyd and track her to Mellerson’s house.
Rignal Baldwin V, an attorney for Brennan, said he was “baffled” the county would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars “in a matter that arose from a lawful arrest of a person.”
“The actions taken were independently determined to be within policy, and the county executive has subverted due process for political gain, at the expense of the county taxpayers,” Baldwin said. “We intend to hold the County Executive accountable on behalf of Corporal Brennan, and all Baltimore County Police Officers.”
Attempts to reach Schmidt for comment, including an email to the county attorney and a request left for an attorney used by the Fraternal Order of Police, were unsuccessful.
Gordon, Mellerson’s attorney, called the officer who sought to arrest Floyd “out of line” and “rogue in his conduct.” Schmidt tackling Mellerson, he said, was “outrageous.”
But he praised the county executive’s administration for “recognizing there was a problem and understanding that true leadership required them to confront it rather than run away from it.”
“This one was extremely bad, and it could’ve been far worse, if the injuries were substantial,” Gordon said.