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Prince George's sergeant in beating video is suspended

By Mary Pat Flaherty and Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, April 15, 2010; B01

Prince George's police have suspended a sergeant who was at the scene of a beating last month of an unarmed University of Maryland student that occurred after crowds took to the streets to celebrate a basketball victory. The beating was caught on a video that surfaced publicly Monday.

Maj. Andy Ellis, a county police spokesman, declined to identify the officer but confirmed the suspension, which occurred Tuesday night and is part of the widening investigation of the beating and any failures to stop or report it. The sergeant is the second officer suspended.

Ellis estimated that internal affairs investigators had spoken with half of the roughly 100 officers who worked riot duty after a March 3 Maryland-Duke game. He said the department thinks that it has identified the three baton-wielding officers in the video and that they could be suspended soon. He said the officers will be identified publicly during or after the investigation.

The video, which has been aired nationwide and has cast a new light on Prince George's police tactics, shows the student skipping on a sidewalk before stopping at a phalanx of officers on horseback. As he stood there, two Prince George's officers ran up and attacked him. A third officer then joined the beating.

Ellis said the department is trying to balance the public interest in knowing how the department monitors officers with concerns about the men's safety and due process. Some have faced threats since the tape emerged, Ellis said.

Action against the sergeant follows the suspension of Officer Sean McAleavey, who had filed charging documents about the incident.

The sworn charging documents made no mention of the beating and wrongly said that two students had assaulted police on horseback who were controlling the throngs near the College Park campus after the game.

The FBI and the state's attorney's office in Prince George's are investigating police conduct in the incident. Some of the officers in the video had come forward, but others had to be identified as part of the internal affairs investigation.

The video shows the two officers in riot gear rushing John J. McKenna, 21, and pinning him against a wall before at least one repeatedly strikes him. As McKenna crumples to the ground, a third officer is shown hitting his legs and torso with a baton. FBI agents and county internal affairs officers met Wednesday and are working together on the investigation.

The sergeant's suspension comes a day after Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said officers who saw the incident had "a duty" to intervene or at least report the use of force.

The video, which was shot by another student, was released Monday by an attorney for McKenna, who originally was charged with felonies for allegedly attacking officers and their mounts. Those charges were dropped without comment just before the video surfaced.

Ellis said the officer who wrote the charging documents "was not directly at the scene" but had been working as a processing officer writing up accounts provided to him by the officers making arrests. Who provided the account in the charging documents "is part of the investigation," Ellis said.

The documents allege that McKenna and Benjamin C. Donat, 19, were running and screaming in the middle of Route 1, prompting an unruly crowd to form. Donat is not shown in the video. Charges against Donat, also a University of Maryland student, were dropped Friday. The video does not show McKenna making any aggressive move toward the mounted officers.

In all, 28 students were arrested or cited March 3 after Maryland's victory over Duke, causing a debate between police and students over how and when to break up groups of revelers.

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