A Baltimore County police officer who used a Taser on a Rosedale man is scheduled to go before the department's first public trial board hearing to defend himself against allegations that could result in his firing.
Officer Ernest Hannig's hearing is tentatively scheduled for June 12-14, Police Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said. The county hasn't had an officer go before the trial board since the legislature passed a bill to make the internal disciplinary hearings public.
Hannig is disputing the findings of an internal investigation that he used excessive force and lied on an incident report following an encounter last June with Charles Chapman. A reprimand and disciplinary report, included in the file, recommended Hannig be fired.
On June 16, 2016, Hannig responded to a call to the Rosedale area, where witnesses reported Chapman was disrobing on a ramp from Route 40 onto Interstate 695, according to documents in the department's internal affairs investigation into the incident.
While part of the encounter was captured by a Taser camera video, Hannig said much of the encounter between him and Chapman wasn't captured on the video, according to the documents. Hanning described Chapman's behavior as erratic.
Hannig's attorney, Michael L. Marshall, said in an interview that the officer had backed away from Chapman, who continued to move toward Hannig.
Hannig described the man's behavior changing from being "highly aggressive to being relatively calm and catatonic," and said he deployed his Taser because Chapman began to walk toward him with clenched fists, the documents said.
The video, however, showed that "at no time is Mr. Chapman observed posturing to fight," or walking toward Hannig in an aggressive manner, wrote Capt. Michael Cortes in the reprimand and disciplinary report, which was included in the file.
Cortes noted Chapman is seen in the video walking toward Hannig "with his arms extended outward and the palm of his hands facing towards Officer Hannig," the document said.
"At the conclusion of the investigation, it was determined that Officer Hannig embellished the actions of Mr. Chapman in order to justify a use of force that was out of policy," Cortes wrote.
Cortes noted in the report there are 57 seconds of video of Chapman and Hannig's interaction before he deployed the Taser.
Hannig's attorney disputed the department's claims.
"They're accusing him of lying when he said the guy was coming at him," Marshall said. "The guy clearly is walking toward him."
While Hannig described it as "charging," the department disagreed, Marshall said.
He said Hannig is being reprimanded "because he said charging instead of approaching? What is charging?" Marshall said.
He added that Hannig "knows it's on video" and, therefore, would be subject to review.
Marshall said Chapman was not seriously injured from the incident. He was taken to a local hospital to have the Taser prongs removed.
Chapman was not charged in the incident, according to online court records. Neither he nor his family members could be reached for comment.
Because the report recommended he be fired, Hannig chose to go before a trial board, which can make its own recommendations to the police chief. The trial board is a three-member panel made up of a commander, a lieutenant and a person of the same rank as the accused.
Information in such internal affairs investigative files against officers is typically withheld from the public, but this case was publicly available because Hannig filed a motion for a show-cause hearing in Baltimore County Circuit Court.
Hannig's attorney had requested the hearing to dispute the wording of two of the charges. Hannig's request was later withdrawn after the county agreed to revise the wording.
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Hannig, a 15-year veteran of the department, is assigned to the mobile crisis team, which pairs a mental health clinician with officers for calls involving individuals with known or suspected mental health issues. He is suspended with pay, Armacost said.
In October, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that the Police Department would be working with the nonprofit Council of State Governments Justice Center to conduct a comprehensive review of best practices when responding to calls involving individuals with behavioral health issues.
The review was one of several Police Department reforms Kamenetz announced following the death of Korryn Gaines. The 23-year-old woman was shot by police in front of her son after an hours-long standoff at her Randallstown apartment. The case garnered national attention after Gaines streamed some of the interaction with police on Facebook. The State's Attorney's Office did not charge the officer.
Gaines had suffered from anxiety and depression, her family said. Her boyfriend told police on the day of the standoff that she had mental health issues and had been off her medication.
Kamenetz also announced the acceleration of a body camera program and independent review of sexual assault investigations.