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Baltimore police officer retires as officials consider discipline

A 23-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department retired this month, as officials considered whether to discipline him for a 2012 incident involving a handcuffed suspect, a police spokesman said.

Officer Michael McSpadden, who had been sued five times for alleged brutality — cases that cost Baltimore taxpayers more than $624,000 in settlements — was suspended with pay in October 2014 after The Baltimore Sun unearthed a video that contradicted his statements in charging documents for the 2012 arrest.

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The Sun investigation revealed that police leaders, city attorneys and other top officials were not keeping track of officers who repeatedly faced lawsuits involving brutality allegations.

In July, prosecutors determined that the statute of limitations had expired for the most serious offenses connected to the 2012 arrest, and they could not prove other potential charges. The Police Department then started an internal investigation.

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"He retired," Baltimore police spokesman T.J. Smith said recently, when asked about McSpadden's status. "He left before the disciplinary process concluded."

McSpadden, 44, did not respond to requests for comment.

The retirement allowed him to avoid loss of pay or benefits had he been found guilty of violating department policies. He earned about $69,000 a year.

Bryan A. Levitt, who represented Bolaji Obe in the civil lawsuit, said he had expected McSpadden to retire because the officer could have lost part of his pension.

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The McSpadden case highlighted criticism leveled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and then-police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts against the Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights, which provides procedural protections for officers accused of misconduct. Both leaders said the city had no choice but to suspend officers with pay unless they are criminally charged.

According to the civil lawsuit, McSpadden held Obe and a friend at knifepoint in a downtown parking garage. The officer demanded that one of them remove a shirt to wipe up urine from the floor and punched Obe in the face when his hands were cuffed behind his back, the documents state. McSpadden wielded "a knife with a blade approximately 4 or 5 inches in length ... all the while making stabbing motions toward them and also threatening to slash the tires" on their car, the lawsuit says.

McSpadden wrote in charging documents that he hit Obe, who had "assumed an aggressive stance, clenched his fist and postured his body like he was going to attack." The officer said Obe "fell to the ground and was handcuffed without further incident."

Security camera video, however, shows that the off-duty officer handcuffed Obe, who was sitting on a stool in the parking garage's office. McSpadden left and re-entered the office, moving to a spot outside the camera's view. Obe can then be seen falling off the stool to the floor outside the office.

Still handcuffed, Obe lay motionless as McSpadden wiped something off his face. The officer lifted Obe off the ground and leaned him against a wall.

Obe was later cleared of criminal charges.

The Sun investigation — which led to a review of the Police Department by the U.S. Department of Justice — showed that the city paid nearly $6 million since 2011 in court judgments and settlements in more than 100 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. In such settlements, the city and its officers do not acknowledge wrongdoing.

—Mark Puente

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