Police: Footage shows wrongful arrest of Baltimore passerby
BALTIMORE – Baltimore police on Friday released body camera footage showing a veteran officer chasing down and arresting a pedestrian who criticized his behavior, an incident that the city's top cop says illustrates a "horrible culture" within the force that's struggling to comply with federally mandated police reforms.
Sgt. Ethan Newberg and a subordinate officer have been suspended after investigators say body camera video disproved the 24-year veteran's recent account of an arrest in Southwest Baltimore. In his initial report, Newberg portrayed the man as "combative and aggressive."
But in video shown to reporters Friday, Newberg and the subordinate officer are shown to be aggressors as a male passerby tries to cross a rain-slicked street where uniformed officers are conducting a warrant check. The man is heard calmly criticizing officers as he walks nearby, saying they shouldn't make their detainee sit on wet pavement. Newberg then rushes toward the passerby and a subordinate officer tackles him in the middle of the roadway.
When the man objects to his treatment, complaining his rights are being trampled, Newberg is heard saying: "Take your charge like a man."
Newberg later tells him he's going to jail because he doesn't "know how to act." When another officer tries to calm the situation, Newberg dismisses his colleague's input, saying "take your hand-holding nonsense somewhere else." Prosecutors later declined to pursue charges against the man.
Newberg, 49, is among the highest-paid city employees in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun has reported that the sworn sergeant was paid $243,000 last fiscal year, much of it thanks to numerous overtime shifts. He's been charged with assault, false imprisonment and misconduct. He was arrested last week and is suspended without pay.
It's unclear whether Newberg has an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who was formally put in command of the Baltimore Police Department in March after arriving from New Orleans, said he was concerned about what the video footage says about the city force's "horrible culture" and he wants to find out how pervasive it is.
"The man did nothing to provoke Sgt. Newberg, whose actions were not just wrong but deeply disturbing and illegal," Harrison told reporters.
But when Newberg was criminally charged last week, police union leader Mike Mancuso said the accused officer was "trashed" by Harrison. Mancuso said he was "struck by how willing the commissioner was to condemn an on-duty, uniformed police sergeant after watching the body worn camera video" while not similarly condemning a crowd of rowdy teenagers following a recent incident at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. During that situation, Mancuso, president of the Lodge 3 union of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, drew criticism after describing some of the youths as "criminals."
Harrison said he plans to methodically improve the dismal image of the police department and boost its effectiveness in fighting crime. He's the former leader of the New Orleans police department, helping that formerly scandal-plagued force implement consent decree reforms after becoming superintendent there in 2014.
Maryland's largest city is in the relatively early stages of trying to comply with a federal consent decree mandating sweeping reforms after U.S. investigators detailed longstanding patterns of unconstitutional policing and excessive force.
Follow McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd