Lee Dotson saw two Baltimore officers force a man to sit on a rain-drenched curb and decided to speak up.
“That ground wet, man,” Dotson said on May 30, as he passed the scene and walked away, down Ashton Street in southwestern Baltimore.
Sgt. Ethan Newberg described Dotson as “combative” in initial reports. But video footage released Friday tells a radically different story.
Newberg broke into a run, grabbed Dotson by the arm and tried to take him down before another officer tackled the passerby to the pavement and locked handcuffs around his wrists, according to footage from the officer’s body camera.
That video challenged the sequence of events Newberg described in his reports, leading to the arrest of the veteran officer in an incident among others that have plagued the department with what Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has called a “horrible culture” of excessive force.
Harrison said on Friday that the “officer is tarnishing the badge that we all wear,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
Newberg said in a report that Dotson was “combative and aggressive,” Harrison said at a June 6 news conference. Documents also show the officers described Dotson as inciting a hostile crowd while squaring off with them, according to the Sun.
But Harrison removed Newberg from the force after reviewing the videos, describing Dotson as “walking calmly away after offering his opinion.”
Newberg, a 24-year veteran of the force, was charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and misconduct. His attorney Joseph Murtha did not return a request for comment but criticized the release of the footage before Newberg’s trial, the Sun reported.
Due to overtime, Newberg made $243,000 last year — more than the mayor, the Sun reported. He was suspended without pay.
The rush to arrest Dotson appeared to surprise everyone involved.
The man initially detained and later released on scene stood up to watch, while the unnamed officer watching over him rushed to join the fray. Dotson, released without charges, did not understand why Newberg charged him from behind.
“I’m not running away,” Dotson said, as he looked over his shoulder. The two officers subdued him. “I’m suing y’all,” Dotson yelled, asking bystanders to record the unfolding arrest. “Y’all are crazy man. . . . I didn’t do nothing to you man, freedom of speech,” he said, telling officers his constitutional rights were being violated.
After more officers arrived, Dotson struggled with the sequence of events and asked why he was being taken to jail.
“Just go to jail and take your charge like a man,” Newberg called out.
Dotson asked again.
“Because you don’t know how to act,” Newberg said.
Newberg continued to be agitated until another officer from a separate unit told him to relax.
“Leave my scene,” Newberg said. “Don’t you ever tell me how to do my job.”
The second officer involved was suspended with pay, Harrison said, and the other man involved was stopped on a warrant check and later released.
“From what I saw, the man did nothing to provoke Sergeant Newberg, whose actions were not just wrong but deeply disturbing and illegal,” Harrison said at the news conference. “This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Harrison described the incident as one among others that have frayed relations between police and citizens. Last week, a former Baltimore officer was convicted of assault and misconduct after he beat a man in a 2018 incident.
Less than 24 hours after charges were dropped against Dotson, police pulled him over and said his license plate was “positioned in an unusual manner,” speculated his window tint was too dark and smelled marijuana, the Sun reported.
He was charged on possession of crack cocaine, the paper said. A spokesman for the department did not return a request for comment on the timing of the traffic stop occurring soon after charges were filed against Newberg.