Pr. George’s police officer acquitted of assaulting college student

November 2, 2011

A Circuit Court judge on Wednesday acquitted a Prince George’s County police officer who was charged with assaulting an unarmed college student outside a fraternity party in Beltsville about a year ago.

After a day and a half of testimony and arguments in an Upper Marlboro courtroom, Circuit Court Judge Maureen Lamasney acquitted Dominique Richardson of second-degree assault and reckless endangerment. Richardson chose a trial before a judge instead of a jury.

In announcing the verdict, Lamasney said it was clear that Richardson had “offensive physical contact” with the student, Steven Morales. But Lamasney said the officer’s account was more convincing.

“I find [Richardson’s] version to be the more credible version,” Lamasney said.

Richardson hugged his defense attorney, Michael Barnett, as the verdict was read.

“We’re happy about the verdict,” Barnett said. Richardson declined to comment after the trial.

Richardson and Morales provided starkly different accounts of the Oct. 30, 2010, incident.

Morales, now 21, testified that he was trying to get into a warehouse where a fraternity party was being held. He said he had a ticket for the event and was being pushed by a crowd of people also trying to get to the party.

Morales testified that as he was being pushed, he sought help from Richardson, who was moonlighting as a security guard and was near a door that led to the warehouse. Instead, Richardson struck him in the mouth, Morales said.

Morales testified that the blow caused him to fall and that Richardson briefly put him in a choke hold, uttered an expletive and told him to leave.

Richardson testified that he saw a scuffle break out and was trying to help a woman when he saw Morales going toward the warehouse. Richardson said he used a “stiff-arm” on Morales and told him to go back but that Morales took a “swipe” at him.

Richardson said that Morales grabbed him and that the two tumbled to the ground, after which he struck Morales with his left hand.

According to court testimony, Richardson was on “light-duty” status at the time of the incident. Richardson was in violation of police department regulations which prohibit officers from moonlighting while on light-duty status, according to court testimony.

Richardson was suspended a few days after the incident and remains suspended with pay pending an internal investigation, a police spokesman said.

On March 5, more than four months after the incident, Richardson swore out charges against Morales. Prosecutors dropped those charges.

Four other officers who were moonlighting at the party were suspended and investigated for possibly not reporting wrongdoing. Those officers have been cleared and are back on full duty, a police spokesman said.

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