Montgomery officer not guilty in baton assault on unarmed teenager

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2011; 10:30 PM

A Montgomery County police officer was found not guilty of assault Wednesday after jurors weighed emotional testimony from the officer about how and why he struck a 15-year-old, unarmed suspect on the head with a metal baton 11 months ago.

"All of the sudden he's bleeding from the head," Officer George Saoutis said Tuesday on the witness stand in the second day of a three-day trial.

Saoutis broke off his remarks for 15 seconds to compose himself, and explained how he hit the teenager while swinging at the suspect's raised arm to try to knock it down and handcuff him. Hitting the teen's head was an accident, he said.

Saoutis's testimony was part of his attorney's broader efforts to portray him as the kind of policeman needed by the jurors and other Montgomery citizens.

"You know what he is guilty of?" defense attorney James Shalleck said in his opening statement, looking into the jury box. "He's guilty of being an aggressive, caring protector of you and I. He's an active officer who is on the streets trying to protect us. And do things happen in the heat of these things? Yes they do. It's not a perfect world. Nobody's perfect. Things happen. And this was an unfortunate incident."

Saoutis, 39, let out an audible sigh when the verdict was announced about 5 p.m., after three hours of deliberations.

"We're just hoping we can get everything back to normal," his wife, Wendy, said afterward.

Part of that means trying to get back his assignment on the Montgomery force. Saoutis is on administrative leave. He declined to comment.

"We are disappointed but respect the jury's verdict," said prosecutor Robert Hill, declining to comment further.

Hill's case rested in part on the testimony of the 15-year-old victim, who required seven or eight staplelike stitches to close his head wound. The prosecution also called others who were at the scene and Saoutis's fellow officers. Hill established that Saoutis told a series of lies in the week after the incident. Saoutis eventually admitted what he did, but said it was accidental.

Saoutis, at 6-foot-3, with a shaved head and lanky, 175-pound frame, took the witness stand at noon Tuesday wearing a dark suit and light-green tie.

Shalleck asked about his family and whether he had children.

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