The Baltimore police officer who resigned Sunday after a video showed him repeatedly pummeling a man on the street is under criminal investigation and, if charged, could face a charge of second-degree assault, officials said Monday.
Police officials have revealed little else about the incident in East Baltimore on Saturday, when the officer was captured in a now-viral video repeatedly punching Dashawn McGrier, 26. It remains unclear why the confrontation occurred or what, if anything, provoked the officer. Interim Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said the incident could be proof that police training may be lacking, citing the need for more “scenario-based” training and less “pen-and-pencil” lectures.
“Neither of us can say why this happened,” Tuggle said at a news conference Monday. “If it were borne out of emotion, we’re trained — we should be trained to never act in an emotional way, particularly when it comes to engaging with citizens. . . . The situation shows us another deficiency in our training that we can learn from.”
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore police union, said that at first look, the video leaves a “very bad perception” of officers.
“A lot of people forget that we’re human beings too. I don’t know what was going through his mind; only he can testify to that,” Ryan said. “The facts still remain that whether he was having a bad day at home or at work, you still have to maintain control of yourself at all times.”
The incident occurred Saturday morning when two officers encountered McGrier, who was identified by his lawyer. The video shows one of the officers and McGrier talking at first. McGrier is heard telling the officer, “Don’t touch me,” before the officer begins punching him. McGrier falls onto some nearby steps as the officer continues to punch him.
Tuggle quickly denounced the officer’s actions, suspended him and ordered an internal investigation Saturday. The officer, who was with the police department for a little over a year, resigned Sunday night. Tuggle declined to release his name, saying he’s no longer with the agency.
However, Baltimore attorney Warren Brown, who is representing McGrier, identified the officer as Arthur Williams. He said Williams arrested McGrier in June, when his client was charged with assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. A video of the June 26 encounter showed McGrier being held on the ground by the same officer, Brown said.
McGrier, who was not charged in connection with the Saturday encounter, suffered a broken jaw, nose and ribs, Brown said.
The State’s Attorney’s Office is investigating whether the officer should be charged with a crime. Tuggle said a second-degree assault charge is “what’s being looked at.” Under Maryland law, the crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison, a $2,500 fine, or both.
A spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.
The second officer, who did not strike McGrier, has been placed on administrative duties pending the internal investigation. The video shows that officer standing near McGrier and, at one point, appearing to try to stop his colleague. Tuggle said the second officer has a responsibility to both contain the situation and avoid getting hurt.
“There were people in the immediate area approaching that situation with sticks in their hands. . . . He had an obligation to keep himself safe. That’s hugely important,” he said.
Both officers were wearing body cameras, and Tuggle said footage from their equipment is “relatively consistent” with what’s seen in the viral video.
The incident comes at a critical time for the police department, which is supposed to be overhauling its policing practices following findings by the U.S. Justice Department under President Barack Obama that officers engaged in widespread discrimination that disproportionately affected African Americans. The city is under a federal consent decree, which imposes rules on policing and requires monitoring of the agency’s activities.
The video also has raised questions about whether the agency has been dutifully following the agreement, a 200-plus-page document outlining rules on vehicle stops, searches, arrests and more. It also required the creation of an independent team of experts to monitor the department’s compliance. The city and the Justice Department reached the agreement after Freddie Gray died as a result of injuries suffered in police custody in 2015. The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions challenged the consent decree, but a federal judge approved it last year, citing the need for “urgent” oversight.
“There shouldn’t be a breakdown and that’s why I’m so disturbed about this,” Tuggle said. “The consent decree . . . there is no room to go outside of that. I’ve said it before. That’s going to be a benchmark by which we’re guided.”
Ryan, the union president, does not believe the consent decree has been violated, saying the commissioner’s immediate suspension of the officer shows that the agency “can police itself.”