2 Prince George’s officers indicted in beating of University of Maryland student

September 20, 2011

Two Prince George’s County police officers were indicted Tuesday on felony assault charges in the March 3, 2010, beating of an unarmed University of Maryland student — an apparently unprovoked attack that was caught on video and made national news.

Reginald Baker and James J. Harrison have been charged with first-degree assault in the beating of John J. McKenna, 22, who was among the students celebrating in the streets of College Park after the U-Md. men’s basketball team defeated Duke.

The video shows officers pushing McKenna into a concrete wall and striking him with a metal baton. He suffered a concussion and needed staples to close a wound in his head, his attorneys have said.

“The safety of our community depends so much on the solid, quality work of members of the Prince George’s County Police Department,” State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said. “When there is evidence of potential wrongdoing by a police officer, it would never be appropriate for me to look the other way.”

First-degree assault is a felony count, and a conviction carries a maximum of 25 years in prison. Harrison and Baker, who are accused of striking McKenna with batons, also are charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office, misdemeanors.

State and federal authorities launched investigations after an attorney for McKenna released the video in April 2010. This year, Alsobrooks, who was elected in the fall, began her investigation.

A probe by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is ongoing, said Xochitl Hinojosa, an office spokeswoman.

Baker’s attorney, William C. Brennan, said his client has an “umblemished” record of 18 years with the police department and before that served “honorably and with distinction” with the U.S. Marines for eight years.

“This case is not about police misconduct,” Brennan said. “It is about the lawlessness and destructive riots following University of Maryland athletic events.”

Harrison’s attorney did not immediately comment.

Terrell N. Roberts III, an attorney for McKenna, said he is “gratified” that the officers were indicted.

“We think it should have been done much earlier,” Roberts said. “We understand the prosecutor’s office had to deal with a number of officers who were not cooperative in this case. We hope justice will be done.”

Police in riot gear were out in full force the night of March 3, 2010. In previous years some post-game celebrations had gotten out of hand, with students starting fires and damaging property.

The video, which was recorded by another student, shows McKenna skipping along the sidewalk.

Mckenna stopped a few feet in front of a phalanx of officers on horseback, the video shows. As he backed up, two county officers in riot gear ran up and slammed him against a wall. At least one of the officers struck McKenna with a baton.

McKenna crumpled to the ground. As he fell, a third officer rushed in and struck him with a baton, the video shows.

McKenna and another student, Benjamin C. Donat, were charged with attacking police officers on horseback.

Police charging documents sworn out by Prince George’s Cpl. Sean McAleavey alleged that McKenna and Donat struck Maryland-National Capital Park Police officers and their horses, “causing minor injuries.” The students, McAleavey wrote, were “both kicked by the horses and sustained minor injuries.”

Maryland-National Capital Park Police officials later said McKenna and Donat did not attack any of their officers or horses. Prosecutors dropped the charges.

After the video was released, Baker and Harrison were placed on administrative leave with pay, where they remain.

Sgt. David Cline, the third officer involved in the incident, was suspended with pay and later put on administrative duties, where he remains. Cline had contact with McKenna but did not use his baton, said Robert C. Bonsib, Cline’s attorney.

McAleavey, who wrote the statement of charges, was suspended but has been restored to full duty, authorities said.

Prince George’s Police Chief Mark A. Magaw, who was not heading the department at the time of the beating, said he is “committed to constitutional, professional and ethical policing.”

Magaw said commanders have implemented new policies and procedures to prevent a repeat of 2010. He said those deployed to such incidents are now required to have ID numbers clearly printed on their helmets so they can easily be identified, and internal affairs investigators now go out with civil disturbance units assigned to university events. He said officials also have reduced the “span of control” for mid-level supervisors on civil disturbance units — meaning each supervisor is assigned to specifically watch a small group of officers.

“Now if you see something that’s inappropriate, I expect you to take action even if it’s not one of your [officers], don’t get me wrong,” Magaw said. “We’ve just tightened the controls as far as supervision.”

State officials said the investigation is continuing, and sources said authorities are examining whether police supervisors tried to cover up the incident.

In summer 2010, county police detectives investigating the incident reviewed e-mails and text messages of high-ranking police commanders who were at the scene, sources familiar with the investigation said.

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