Baltimore school police officer pleads guilty to slapping student

A Baltimore school police officer caught on tape slapping a student pleaded guilty Tuesday afternoon in a deal that allows him to clear his record but requires him to step down from his job.

Anthony Spence, 45, entered an Alford plea, in which a defendant maintains innocence but accepts punishment, to one count of second-degree assault.

Spence accepted an offer from Circuit Judge Charles Peters in which he will receive probation before judgment and be placed on supervised probation for 18 months. He must resign from the school police force within 90 days.

Prosecutors said they had offered three years of prison time, with all but 60 days suspended, followed by two years of supervised probation, community service, and Spence's resignation from the force.

Spence's defense attorney, Warren Brown, said his client would have gone to trial had Peters not made the alternate offer. Spence faced a maximum possible sentence of 10 years if convicted.

"In the face of what the state was seeking, it wasn't worth the risk," Brown said.

Cellphone video of the incident on March 1, 2016, at REACH Partnership School in Clifton Park showed Spence slapping a 16-year-old across the face three times and then kicknig him. A second officer, Saverna Bias, was seen standing behind Spence, and prosecutors said she encouraged Spence to slap the teen "because he has too much mouth."

Two officers and schools police Chief Marshall Goodwin were placed on leave after the video was posted on social media. Goodwin eventually stepped down, though circumstances around both remain unclear. The incident also helped widen the Department of Justice's civil rights investigation of police in Baltimore to include the school police department.

Charges against Bias remain pending, and she moved forward to trial, with a jury expected to be picked Wednesday morning.

During Spence's plea, Assistant State's Attorney Kristin Blumer said the victim was enrolled as a student at the time but was accused by the officers of trespassing and asked to leave school grounds. Prosecutors said the teen did nothing to provoke the attack.

Brown countered that the teen was armed — he had a knife clipped to his belt, prosecutors said — and that he cursed at Bias and spat on Spence. Brown said the teen has since been arrested and convicted for a robbery that occurred in Patterson Park.

"That's the kind of person Officer Spence was dealing with on this particular day," Brown said. "There's no regrets on [the teen's] part, other than being filmed doing it."

The teen's attorney, Thomas Donnelly, declined to comment on the case with Bias' trial pending.

Prosecutors dropped a misconduct-in-office charge Spence was facing. Previously, a felony child abuse charge was dropped, allowing Spence to continue to be paid while suspended.

After entering his plea, Spence walked out of the east courthouse building and went into the Mitchell Courthouse to the courtroom where Bias' case was being heard. Spence is listed as a possible witness at her trial.

Spence was one of two Baltimore sheriff's deputies fired in 2003 after a Taser attack that sparked outrage in the Hispanic community, The Baltimore Sun reported at the time. Spence said at the time that he was fired unfairly.

In 2011, Spence's girlfriend, who also was a school police officer, took out a protective order against him. According to her account in court records, Spence struck her in the face outside a Charles Street hair salon. The girlfriend said that he tried to prevent her from driving away and that she grabbed her police radio and called for assistance from school police officers.

Last month, court records show Spence was arrested again and charged with second-degree assault, and is free on bail.

Jenny Egan, a public defender who works with juveniles in Baltimore and is a critic of police in schools, attended the plea hearing and said it was "disturbing" that Spence's attorney said his client admits slapping and kicking "a child he is charged with protecting."

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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