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Baltimore police officer gets year of home detention for striking teen

A Baltimore police officer will be on a year of home detention for striking a handcuffed teen at a hospital.

A former Baltimore police officer will be on home detention for the next year after he was convicted Monday of assaulting a 14-year-old boy who was handcuffed at a Northwest Baltimore hospital last year.

Two other officers received probation before judgment for not reporting the incident and denying that it occurred when interviewed by internal affairs investigators, prosecutors said.

All three entered Alford pleas, which allow a defendant to maintain innocence while acknowledging that the state has enough evidence to convict.

"You have a duty, as a police officer, to protect — not to strike people," retired Circuit Judge Paul E. Alpert told former Officer Duane Williams Jr.

Williams was convicted of second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

Police said Williams, who spent more than seven years with the department, resigned in February after the charges were filed and he was suspended without pay. The other officers remain on the force pending internal disciplinary proceedings.

The U.S. Department of Justice cited the incident in its report on the Baltimore Police Department. Justice Department investigators found that the department uses "unreasonable force against juveniles and ignores widely accepted strategies for police interactions with youth."

Prosecutors said in court that Officer Lonnie White, 33, detained the boy for a mental health evaluation on Jan. 14, 2015, and took him to Sinai Hospital. Williams, 28, and Officer Bijay Ranabhat, 33, later went to the hospital to relieve White.

The teen reported to a physician that he was struck multiple times in the face by Williams while he was handcuffed. He suffered a ruptured eardrum and swelling on his face, Assistant State's Attorney John Mitchell said.

Justice Department investigators said the boy had been yelling and kicking his legs. One of the officers reportedly ordered hospital staff to leave the room and slapped or punched the boy in the face repeatedly, investigators said. Nurses also observed the officers being verbally abusive and noted the boy's visible injuries.

The Justice Department concluded that Baltimore officers are not provided guidance on the "causes and unique qualities of youth behavior and communication," and use the same "overly aggressive tactics they use with adults, unnecessarily escalating encounters."

Rais Akbar is juvenile justice director for Advocates for Children and Youth. The group was not involved in the case.

"I certainly hope that report and this incident drive home the need for serious reform," Akbar said.

Attorneys for the Justice Department and the city now are working out details of a consent decree, a set of court-enforceable reforms for the department.

The boy, now 16, appeared in court and told Alpert that he has trouble sleeping at night and has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They were wrong," he said. "I couldn't defend myself."

When Alpert asked Williams if he agreed that the state could prove that he had struck the teen, Williams replied, "Uh," paused, and then said "Yes, sir."

"I know this is an Alford plea, but why did you strike [the victim]?" Alpert asked Williams.

Williams' attorney intervened.

"I'd advise him not to answer that," attorney Chaz Ball said.

Ball said Williams was a preacher and youth football coach.

"This is a solo incident — or allegation — in his life," Ball said.

Ball described the punches as "going too far, like an older brother or parent would do to calm someone."

Williams was given a 10-year suspended prison sentence and three years probation, with the first year on a home monitoring ankle bracelet intended to restrict his movement. He was also ordered to attend anger management counseling.

"I can only infer from the statements of facts that you lost your temper," Alpert said.

White and Ranabhat were both given probation before judgment, meaning their records can be cleared if they complete their probations satisfactorily.

Ranabhat had been on the job only 60 days when the incident occurred, his attorney said.

Court records show Ranabhat was convicted in District Court in June and given an 18-month suspended jail sentence and 18 months of probation, but appealed the conviction to the Circuit Court.

White is a Philadelphia native who moved to Baltimore to join the police in 2005. His attorney, Elan Rafael, said White was an "outstanding police officer."

"You have a duty to protect and serve," Alpert said to White. "Part of your duty is when you see misconduct, you have a duty to report it."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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