After deliberating for about 30 minutes Thursday, a Baltimore County jury acquitted a police officer accused of unlawfully kicking and spitting on a suspect during an arrest that was captured on video by a city police helicopter.
A group of jurors then waited outside the Towson courthouse to thank the officer, Christopher M. Spivey, for his service.
“It was hands down he was innocent,” said Cindy Blanchard, 51, of White Marsh.
Spivey, in turn, thanked the jurors.
Spivey, 29, was charged with four counts of second-degree assault, each carrying up to 10 years in prison, for allegedly kicking 20-year-old Diamontae Tyquan Farrar, who led police on a lengthy car chase in a stolen car on Jan. 25 and then fled on foot. Spivey was the first officer to catch up to Farrar.
A Baltimore police helicopter assisting in the pursuit captured the incident on video. The state’s attorney’s office alleged Spivey used excessive force, kicking Farrar as he got on the ground to surrender, and two more times as he was being handcuffed. Spivey was also accused of spitting on Farrar as he lay handcuffed on the ground.
Spivey said on the stand Wednesday that he feared Farrar might be armed, leading him to make a quick decision to run toward him and kick him to keep him from reaching for a possible gun or other weapon.
In closing arguments, Deputy State’s Attorney Robin S. Coffin questioned why the kicking wasn’t documented by police if it was necessary to arrest Farrar.
Spivey also denied spitting on the man.
Over three days of testimony, the state and the defense repeatedly showed the video captured by the city police helicopter that assisted in the chase. Two Baltimore officers, Edward Nero and John Bilheimer, testified that they were concerned about the video and felt compelled to report it to their supervisors. Nero was one of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray. Nero was acquitted last year, though he still faces a departmental hearing in that case.
Spivey’s attorneys made a point to slow the video down for jurors and give commentary.
“When you slow the video down, you can actually see what happened,” Blanchard, one of the jurors, said afterward.
The defense also called Charles "Joe" Key, an expert in police policy and procedures, who testified that Spivey acted as any “reasonable” officer would.
Another juror, Patty Wise, of Lansdowne said “I am very proud of this officer. He did what he was trained to do.”
Dr. Anand Dutta, 40, a physician from Cockeysville who also was on the panel, said jurors moved quickly after agreeing that the state lacked evidence. Dutta said the video of the incident provided an incomplete picture and that information from the officers on the scene was needed to get the full story. The defense called other officers at the scene who said they did not see Spivey spit on Farrar.
Spivey was suspended with pay for nine months before the trial and still faces an internal investigation.
“We certainly hope that in the future, [the state’s attorney’s office] will investigate these matters more thoroughly before they charge a good cop like Chris Spivey,” said his attorney, Brian Thompson.
He said the state’s attorney’s office wrongly based their investigation on a single video and cautioned that the rush to charge Spivey could deter county police officers from doing their job.
“I think we’ve all seen what’s happened in Baltimore City since the Freddie Gray case. The police have stopped policing, and who could blame them,” Thompson said.
David Rose, second vice president for the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, expressed similar concerns, and said the state’s attorney’s office wil have to “regain some confidence with the troops at large.”
Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger defended his office’s actions in pursuing the case against Spivey.
“We felt like we had sufficient evidence based on the video alone,” he said.
Shellenberger said his office carefully evaluates cases involving officers.
“I take my responsibility to police the police very seriously,” he said. “Only twice in 10 years have we prosecuted a police officer for a crime. I think it’s a very important aspect of our job. I believe I owe it to the public in the cases that we think are sufficient to go forward to go forward.”
Spivey appeared relieved after the verdict, and hugged his attorneys in the courtroom. Outside, he thanked jurors for returning a favorable verdict.
They “very delicately looked at each of the facts and testimony,” he said.
Farrar was convicted of theft and attempting to elude police in the incident. He received a three-year sentence last month.