Investigation of U-Md. student's beating after Duke game turns to police brass

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2010; B01

Detectives investigating the March incident in which Prince George's County police officers in riot gear beat an unarmed University of Maryland student have reviewed e-mails and text messages of high-ranking police commanders at the scene, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

The investigators are trying to determine whether police supervisors gave orders that led to the beating and whether any commanders tried to cover up the incident, said the sources, who spoke on the condition that they not be named because the probe is continuing.

Detectives reviewed e-mails and cellphone messages sent and received by police commanders March 3, the night of the beating and afterward, two sources said. Investigators also reviewed e-mails and text messages sent and received in mid-April, when attorneys for the beaten student released a video of the incident, which prompted media attention.

Investigators reviewed the electronic correspondence late last month. Detectives and prosecutors did not need a subpoena for it because they had reached an agreement with police officials to view it, sources said.

The investigation is being conducted by the state's attorney's office, which is relying heavily on the police department's internal affairs detectives. The FBI is reviewing the incident but is not actively investigating, said sources familiar with the probe.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) declined to comment on specific aspects of the investigation because it remains open.

"We are working diligently and thoroughly to leave no stone unturned in this ongoing investigation," Ivey said.

Two police majors were in charge the night of the incident. Scores of U-Md. students took to the streets after the men's basketball team defeated Duke.

Maj. Kevin Putnam commanded about 100 officers in riot gear, including the officers who beat student John J. McKenna, 21. The officers were out in force because in past years, some students set fires and damaged property along Route 1 after Duke games.

Maj. Daniel A. Dusseau commanded the 1st District, which includes College Park. Days after the beating video was released, Dusseau announced that he was retiring to become head of the Northern Virginia Community College police department, but he said his retirement was unrelated to the incident.

Putnam and Dusseau did not respond to phone messages.

A video taken by a student shows McKenna skipping on a sidewalk. McKenna stops when he sees a phalanx of officers on horseback. As McKenna backs up, two county officers in riot gear rush him and slam him against a concrete wall. At least one of these officers hits McKenna repeatedly with his metal police baton, the video shows.

McKenna crumples to the ground, the video shows. As he falls, a third officer rushes in and strikes him repeatedly with his baton. McKenna suffered a concussion and other injuries.

McKenna initially was charged with assaulting police officers on horseback and their horses. Police alleged that McKenna was acting in concert with another student, Benjamin C. Donat, 19. Police charging documents alleged that McKenna was injured by a police horse.

Attorneys for McKenna and Donat released the video after prosecutors dropped charges against the two students.

None of the officers who slammed McKenna against the wall or struck him with their batons filed a use-of-force report, which the police department requires officers to fill out when they use force. The three officers who had contact with McKenna and the officer who swore out the charging document against him have been suspended with pay.

The night of the incident, police arrested 28 people on charges of disorderly conduct and other offenses. Prosecutors have dropped charges in 22 of the cases. One defendant pleaded guilty, and one went to trial and was found not guilty. Three cases have been put on the inactive docket, prosecutors said.

As part of the investigation, prosecutors have reviewed how authorities in the District handled a September 2002 incident in which D.C. police were criticized for making mass arrests in Pershing Park during World Bank protests.

In December, a federal judge ordered an independent examination of D.C. government records to investigate whether they were altered to cover up police actions during the incident, in which nearly 400 people were arrested. Many were hogtied and held for more than 24 hours.

Police did not warn people to disperse before rounding them up, and many of those arrested said they were bystanders. Then-Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey apologized for the arrests.

Also in December, the D.C. government and a nonprofit civil rights group settled a class-action lawsuit brought by those arrested. The District agreed to pay $8.25 million to those who were arrested.

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