My colleagues on The Post’s editorial board weighed in recently on a Maryland case:
IN PRINCE George’s County, it is now clear that the police, without provocation, can beat an unarmed young student senseless — with impunity. They can blatantly lie about it — with impunity. They can stonewall and cover it up for months — with impunity. They can express no remorse and offer no apology — with impunity.
The agent of this travesty of justice, and this impunity, is Judge Beverly J. Woodard of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Judge Woodard has presided in the case involving John J. McKenna, a young University of Maryland student who was savagely beaten by two baton-wielding Prince George’s cops in March 2010, following a men’s basketball game on the College Park campus.
The beating of Mr. McKenna was videotaped; had it not been, the police, who filed no report and then falsely claimed that he instigated the incident and attacked them, may never have been investigated or charged. Yet despite the fact that a jury convicted one of the police officers, James Harrison Jr., of assault nearly two years ago, Judge Woodard has now thrown the verdict out and closed the case.
The judge offered no explanation for her actions … .
There were dozens of witnesses, including police. Yet what followed was an official wall of silence, dishonesty and denial from the department. Mr. McKenna’s injuries, the police initially said, were sustained when he was kicked by a horse.
The cops’ story fell apart when the video surfaced, but even then their stonewalling continued. For months, no one would identify the officers in riot gear who were shown beating Mr. McKenna.
It was only due to the persistence of Mr. McKenna’s lawyers that the cover-up and lies were shredded. At trial, in late 2012, a jury convicted Mr. Harrison on a felony charge of assault. Another officer, Reginald Baker, was acquitted, although he, too, used his baton to beat Mr. McKenna as he lay stunned and defenseless on the ground.
Judge Woodard conducted herself unprofessionally at trial. She failed to disclose an apparent conflict of interest — she had been previously married to a Prince George’s officer who himself was convicted for brutality — until asked about it by a journalist. In court, she exhibited what many observers regarded as overt hostility toward Mr. McKenna, the victim.
Even if the charge had stuck, it’s rather paltry, given the transgressions here. Surely a citizen accused of similar crimes would have been hit with more severe charges. That even the misdemeanor conviction didn’t stick makes this all the more outrageous.
But there’s also a bit more to this story. There should have been security camera footage of McKenna’s beating. McKenna’s attorneys subpoenaed some 60 hours of video from campus cameras. But curiously missing was the 90 minutes of video from the camera that should have been pointed at the area where McKenna was beaten. Campus police claimed it had already been recorded over. The video was recovered, thanks to a copy recorded by another campus police officer, but the recovered video revealed that the camera had mysteriously been pointed in another direction.
As it turns out, the officer in charge of the campus security video system, Lt. Joanne Ardovini, is married to one of the officers named in the police report about McKenna. If you think that’s all rather convenient, you aren’t alone. Campus police officials then claimed that the video went missing because Ardovini was just too darned conscientious.
This error would normally have been caught instantly, Dillon said, but in this case, he said the technician’s supervisor — Lt. Joanne Ardovini — had removed herself from the process to avoid a potential conflict of interest: Her husband, Prince George’s County Police Officer John Ardovini, was involved in arresting McKenna on assault charges.
“If she had been part of it, the mistake would have been caught,” Dillon said. But in recusing herself, Dillon added, “she did exactly what she should have done.”
Odd, isn’t it? Because a police officer removed herself from the investigation in order to avoid the appearance of bias in favor of her husband, the police department failed to deliver the precise bit of footage that would have showed that the incident didn’t happen the way the officers, including her husband, claimed it did. A subsequent Maryland State Police investigation also concluded that there was no evidence of a coverup.
So we have police officers who beat an innocent college student, then lied about it. We have a police camera that should have recorded the incident, but for some reason was aimed elsewhere, and footage that went missing but, we’re told, only because the officer who oversees the video system — who happens to be married to one of the accused officers — recused herself. We’re told we can believe this story because it has been verified by investigators who also happen to be police officers. We then have a judge, who was once married to a police officer who was once convicted of brutality, overriding a jury conviction, thus erasing the only accountability to befall any of the state officials implicated. This came after a trial in which the judge failed to disclose her prior marriage, and witnesses say she was openly hostile to the innocent college student who was beaten.
One last point: Were it not for the cellphone videos shot by bystanders, McKenna would likely have been convicted for assaulting the cops and resisting arrest, based on lies told by the officers who beat him. How did Maryland police and prosecutors respond to this? After the incident made headlines, some Maryland public officials responded by harassing and arresting citizens caught recording police with their cellphones and, in some cases, charging them with felonies. Those arrests and harassments have continued, despite assertions from the Maryland attorney general, the U.S. Department of Justice, a Maryland state judge and at least two federal appeals courts (though not the one that covers Maryland) that citizens have a First Amendment right to record on-duty police officers in public spaces.
McKenna will at least be compensated for his injuries in the form of a $2 million settlement from the county. That settlement will be paid by taxpayers. So after the beating of McKenna, the subsequent police lies and coverup and the numerous illegal arrests that followed, in the end, the only party punished for any of it will be Maryland taxpayers.