A Prince George's County police officer who used his metal baton to hit a handcuffed suspect was acquitted of assault yesterday by jurors who watched a videotape of the incident and decided that the use of force was justified.
After deliberating for about six hours over two days, the Circuit Court jury rejected the prosecution's argument that Cpl. Brian K. Addis, 31, committed second-degree assault in his Oct. 5, 2003, encounter with suspect Vernon S. Bullock. Addis was also acquitted of filing a false report; both charges are misdemeanors.
Jurors decided that the use of force by Cpl. Brian K. Addis, shown kicking suspect Vernon S. Bullock, was justified.
(Prince George's State's Attorney's Office)
Graphic Content: This video, shot from a camera inside a Prince George's County police vehicle, shows Cpl. Brian K. Addis using his metal baton to subdue a handcuffed suspect.
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Bullock stole a van at gunpoint and led police on a high-speed chase that ended when the van crashed in the Bowie area. A camera in Addis's patrol car recorded Addis repeatedly kicking Bullock and striking him with the baton as other officers tried to handcuff him. The tape shows Addis hitting Bullock with the baton and kneeing him after he was handcuffed and on the ground.
Addis testified that he used force after Bullock was handcuffed because Bullock claimed to have a gun and was reaching for his waistband, as if to grab a weapon.
Addis "clearly did not know" whether Bullock was armed, juror Ed Oblas, 47, of Bowie, said outside the courthouse. And although Bullock was handcuffed, Oblas said, "he was not under control."
Another juror, Bob Holbrook, 46, of Landover Hills, said he believed Addis's testimony that Bullock was a threat. He said he thought the videotape showed Bullock to be out of control. "We were just concerned with what happened on the tape," he said.
In his closing argument Wednesday, Deputy State's Attorney Robert L. Dean told jurors that Addis took the law into his hands. "The law protects people like Vernon Bullock, just like it protects you and me," Dean said. "We don't leave it to the police to punish."
Percy Alston, president of the union that represents most police officers in the county, said he thinks the jury realized that Addis was only doing his job when he used force against Bullock, now 22, who is serving a seven-year prison term for the carjacking.
"It shows the citizens of Prince George's County are not going to tolerate violent crime," Alston said. "They're not going to handcuff . . . officers so they can't do their job."
State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said he was surprised and disappointed.
"I think the tape speaks for itself," he said. "The jury had a different view of it than I did. People have to look at the tape and draw their own conclusions."
Defense attorney Michael J. Belsky said Addis, who joined the force in 1997, is a good police officer who should not have been prosecuted. Addis, standing with Belsky outside the courthouse after the verdicts, had little to say.
"I'm happy," he told reporters.
The case against Addis was the first prosecution of a police officer for alleged on-duty misconduct since Ivey took office in late 2002. His predecessor, Jack B. Johnson, who is now county executive, prosecuted 11 officers for alleged on-duty misconduct in seven cases during his eight years as state's attorney, but he gained no convictions.
The Addis prosecution was closely watched by police officials, community leaders and legal professionals. County police signed an agreement last year with the Justice Department under which the police department agreed to make extensive changes in training and procedures to reduce instances of excessive force and other misconduct.
Addis has been on leave with pay since he was indicted in the case last year. The department normally waits for a criminal prosecution to be completed before beginning an internal investigation to determine whether any department rules were violated.
It is unclear whether Addis will be allowed to return to work while the internal investigation is conducted. Police Chief Melvin C. High said that in light of the acquittal, he will review Addis's job status, according to a police spokeswoman.
Belsky, the defense attorney, said in his closing argument Wednesday that Addis's actions were in keeping with police procedure. "Had he intended to hurt Mr. Bullock, he would have," Belsky said. "Everything he did was perfect police training."