A city police officer was acquitted by a judge Thursday of first-degree assault in a Christmas Eve incident in Northeast Baltimore.
Officer Kevin Battipaglia had been accused of clubbing a 21-year-old man, Darrian Carr, with his baton after a brief chase in a parking lot at Belair Road and Brendan Avenue in Northeast Baltimore about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 24. The officer had been suspended without pay from the Police Department.
But the officer’s body camera did not capture the moment of the baton’s impact; a friend of Carr’s who was also at the scene testified that his view was obstructed; and a training officer called as a state’s witness said he could not tell whether the strike was intentional or accidental.
Circuit Judge Dana M. Middleton, who presided over the three-day bench trial, issued the not-guilty verdict Thursday.
“The judge in this case was extraordinarily fair, thoroughly reviewed all the evidence and found — exactly as we had always contended — that this was nothing more than an accident,” said Michael Belsky, Battipaglia’s lead defense attorney. “We only wish the state’s attorney’s office could have reviewed it in the same light six months ago.”
A spokeswoman for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby expressed disappointment in the decision.
“Our office strongly believed that the evidence presented in court, including body worn camera footage, was enough to convict,” said the spokeswoman, Melba Saunders, in a statement. “However, we stand committed to applying justice fairly and equally no matter one’s race, sex, religion, or occupation."
The city’s police union blasted Mosby in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Is it possible that Mrs. Mosby has again wasted taxpayer money in pursuit of her all-consuming obsession with the persecution of our members?” the statement read. “We believe she has and that this Officer not only deserves to be swiftly reinstated and reimbursed, but also given a sincere apology from Mrs. Mosby and her staff.”
Prosecutors’ and defense attorneys’ arguments in the trial each focused heavily on the officer’s body camera footage, which showed him chasing Carr across a busy Belair Road intersection and into the parking lot of a Dollar Tree.
In the footage, Carr can be seen running, then quickly changing direction as he is cut off by a car, and colliding with Battipaglia, who was running with his baton in his right hand, at the parking lot’s Brendan Avenue entrance.
Battipaglia’s attorneys argued that the tip of the officer’s baton struck Carr accidentally while the two were running full speed — an argument they bolstered with testimony from Dr. Jonathan L. Arden, a forensic pathologist who told the court that Carr’s injury was smaller than it would have been if Battipaglia had struck him with the broad side of the baton.
Tyquan Spriggs, 23, Carr’s friend who also ran from Battipaglia after seeing him hop out of his patrol car with the baton, said the officer had been red-faced and aggressive. Spriggs ran down Brendan Avenue, and testified that while he saw Battipaglia swing the baton, a car rolled past and blocked his vision of the impact. Belsky argued that if the officer had swung the baton the way Spriggs described, his body camera would have rotated with his torso.
In a blow to the prosecution, Baltimore police instructor Khamla Soukaseum, who was called as a state’s witness, testified that he could not tell from Battipaglia’s body camera footage whether the officer intentionally or accidentally struck Carr, Belsky said.
Two other officers were called to testify in the trial: Officer Rhys Dacuycuy, who first responded to the scene, and Detective Karl Page, a member of the Special Incident Response Team, the unit that investigates all police shootings and other use-of-force-related incidents.
Page explained the Police Department’s use-of-force policies. Dacuycuy, who was across Belair Road and did not see the incident, guided the court through his body camera footage from the day and described running over to find Battipaglia kneeling next to Carr.
Carr’s attorney, Latoya Francis-Williams, said she was “highly, highly, highly disappointed” with the verdict — and blamed city prosecutors for the outcome.
“Is the state’s attorney’s office prosecuting these cases as vigorously as they would have if the officer were a regular civilian?” she asked. “I think the obvious answer is no. Why didn’t the state put forward more evidence? … They didn’t bring it home and connect the dots for the court.”
Francis-Williams said the prosecutors, Alexander Rodriguez and Stacy Llewellyn, did not emphasize enough the severity of his injuries and the significance of his subsequent surgeries.
Carr, she said, is “not doing well at all.”