A Prince George’s County circuit court judge on Wednesday threw out the first-degree assault charges against two Prince George’s County police officers caught on video beating an unarmed University of Maryland student during a raucous basketball postgame celebration in 2010, essentially ruling that the student’s injuries were not serious enough to warrant the charge.
As prosecutors closed their case against Officers Reginald Baker and James Harrison, Judge Beverly J. Woodard ruled that jurors should not even consider the more serious charges. In doing so, Woodard granted a defense attorneys’ motion for a judgment of acquittal on that count. She said prosecutors had not presented evidence that University of Maryland student John McKenna had sustained “serious and permanent injuries” or that the officers intended to inflict such injuries.
“There’s been no permanency,” Woodard said. “He recovered from his head injury.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Ruddy argued that he needed to show only that Baker and Harrison intended to cause serious physical harm, and the roughly 12 blows they delivered to McKenna while he was prone provided evidence of that. He said McKenna suffered a concussion, the effects of which could be lasting.
Ruddy said video showed that Baker and Harrison struck McKenna in the head, though Woodard disputed that, noting prosecutors’ own expert testified he saw only body blows. She said the concussion -- the seriousness of which she questioned -- could have been caused when the officers struck McKenna with a riot shield, which prosecutors’ expert said was reasonable conduct.
Jurors will still be allowed to consider second degree assault and misconduct in office charges against the officers. Defense attorneys began their case Wednesday morning, calling a mounted police officer working that night as their first witness.