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Child abuse charge dropped against Baltimore school police officer in slapping incident

Prosecutors drop felony child abuse charge against school police officer captured on video slapping a student.

Prosecutors have dropped the felony child abuse charge against a Baltimore school police officer captured on video slapping and kicking a student outside a city high school last month.

Anthony C. Spence, 44, still faces second-degree assault and misconduct in office charges, both misdemeanors.

The Baltimore state's attorney's office dropped the charges after it determined that Spence did not have "temporary care or custody" of the student and "therefore the child abuse charges are not appropriate," spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said in a statement.

"The charges in these cases, like in all cases, reflect our subsequent investigation and our obligation to apply the facts to the law," she said.

Spence plans to reach out to the school district about resuming his pay, his attorney, Warren Brown, said Thursday. He was suspended without pay from the school police force because he was charged with a felony.

The video of the March 1 incident at the REACH Partnership School in Clifton Park shows Spence slapping a 16-year-old across the face three times and then kicking him. A second officer, Saverna Bias, 53, is seen standing behind Spence. She also was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

The video was posted on Facebook, sparking community outrage and calls for the U.S. Justice Department to expand its investigation of the city Police Department to include the school police force.

Both officers and school police Chief Marshall Goodwin were placed on leave after the video surfaced. School officials have declined to say why Goodwin was placed on leave.

Lauren Geisser, an attorney representing the student and his parents, said the teen went to the hospital for injuries to his ribs and face. She noted that the assault and misconduct charges Spence still faces carry maximum sentences of 10 years and life, respectively.

Geisser said "the egregious acts" are captured in the video and that she expects a conviction.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said the officer should be fired. "There continues to be no excuse for what we all witnessed in that video."

School system officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. Schools CEO Gregory Thornton said previously that he was "appalled and disappointed by the video."

Thornton said after the incident that he was looking at improvements to the school system's police force. Schools officials have expressed interest in purchasing body cameras for officers as other local police departments have begun to do.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has also expressed concern about the incident but said she felt the school system would take appropriate action.

"I have faith that they're going to do everything they can to correct this problem, this lapse, and put systems in place to help ensure something like this doesn't happen again," Rawlings-Blake said last month.

The mayor could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Brown said the student spat on Spence before the officer slapped and kicked him.

"When it's all said and done, and the evidence is laid out, whether it's a judge or jury that's hearing the case, they should have some concern about the action of the victim of this case," the officer's attorney said. "It's a vile act that yields an emotional response."

Geisser disputed the allegation that her client spat on the officer.

Brown said school police officers are in a "tough position" when dealing with young people who have no respect for them.

"You're dealing with some kids who are antisocial, lead-poisoned, irrational, angry, mired in poverty and despair," he said. "It's not 'Leave It to Beaver.' You're dealing with a tough group of people."

Most people, Brown said, will be revolted and sympathetic when they hear that the youth spat on the officer.

"We can't give them carte blanche, but by the same token, they're human beings," he said. "You spit on somebody, you should expect that there's going to be a physical reaction. You're assuming the risk. That's just the reality."

Bias' attorney, Steven H. Levin, said Thursday that the video shows that his client did nothing to the youth.

"Officer Bias has served the school community for over 10 years with distinction. There is no basis for these charges," he said.

Sgt. Clyde Boatwright, president of the union that represents city school police, said the union supports the decision not to move forward with felony charges.

"We fully expect that our officer will have his day in court, and we await all of the facts coming out then," Boatwright said. "There should not have been a rush to judgment, and as the facts slowly trickle out, we're going to continue to monitor this case."

Baltimore Sun reporter Erica L. Green contributed to this article.

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