Assaulted U-Md. student’s attorney says county agreed to settlement

October 20, 2012

The attorney for a University of Maryland student beaten by two Prince George’s County police officers during a basketball postgame celebration revealed Saturday that the county had agreed to pay $3.6 million in civil settlements to 10 students and others involved in the incident.

A day after Prince George’s County jurors acquitted one officer and convicted another in connection with the 2010 videotaped beating of university student John McKenna, Christopher A. Griffiths, McKenna’s attorney, revealed that the county had agreed to pay his client a $2 million settlement in connection with the incident. He said the county had also agreed to pay about $1.6 million to nine students and others he and his partner represented, some who were falsely arrested, others who were physically assaulted.

“That’s an aspect of this case that the jury didn’t hear,” Griffiths said. “The police decided to take the gloves off, and they were making examples of students, and there were acts of police brutality and police misconduct in various areas at various times, and none were as well documented as McKenna.”

He said the settlement demonstrates police corruption goes beyond the two officers who were charged criminally in the case.

Spokesmen for the county state’s attorney’s office and the police department said Saturday that they had forwarded a reporter’s request for comment about the civil settlements and Griffith’s allegations to their bosses and others and would respond later. They did not call back with a response.

Police Chief Mark Magaw has said that commanders implemented new policies and procedures to prevent a repeat of the incident. He said those deployed to such incidents are now required to have ID numbers clearly printed on their helmets so they can be easily identified and internal affairs investigators now go out with civil disturbance units assigned to university events.

On Friday — after a week-long trial and nearly seven hours of deliberation — jurors found Officer Reginald Baker not guilty of second-degree assault and misconduct in office in connection with McKenna’s beating, but they convicted Officer James Harrison Jr. of second-degree assault. Both officers were seen on videotape striking McKenna with their batons after forcing him to the ground during a celebration after the University of Maryland’s basketball victory over Duke in March 2010.

Prosecutors said both men used excessive force, then tried to cover up their actions until video footage emerged. Defense attorneys said that the officers acted reasonably in subduing a man they saw charging toward them, fists clenched and arms flailing.

They asked jurors not to hold the officers criminally responsible for a mere four seconds of force during a riot.

Griffiths said he was “disappointed with the verdict,” and he was also disappointed more people were not charged for other incidents.

“It wasn’t explored in this trial, but it’s clear that supervisors and commanders were complicit in the misconduct that night,” Griffiths said. “I think if a jury knew that, they would look at the assault on McKenna in a different light.”

From what jurors saw, though, they seemed to agree that Baker acted reasonably.

The video shows he drove McKenna to the ground with his riot shield and he and Harrison then began swinging their batons at the student. A prosecution expert testified that the use of the riot shield was reasonable because McKenna was acting unlawfully in approaching a police riot line but that striking him while he was on the ground was excessive.

After the verdict, Harrison and his attorneys declined to comment.

Baker’s attorney said his client hopes to return to work as a police officer.

Baker and Harrison remain suspended with pay from the police department while officials complete administrative procedures to determine their future employment status, Magaw said after the verdict.

Harrison, who remains out on bond, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison at his Dec. 14 sentencing.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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