A Baltimore police officer was suspended with pay by the department Saturday after a viral video emerged showing him repeatedly punching a man in the face before taking him to the ground.
Interim Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle said he was “deeply disturbed” by the video, and that the incident is under investigation.
“The officer involved has been suspended while we investigate the totality of this incident,” Tuggle said. “Part of our investigation will be reviewing body worn camera footage.”
Police said a second officer on the scene at the time of the incident was placed on administrative duties pending the outcome of the investigation.
Attorney Warren Brown, who is representing the man who was punched, identified his client as Dashawn McGrier, 26. Brown said McGrier was not being charged with a crime, but was taken to a hospital and was having X-rays taken of his jaw, nose and ribs late Saturday for suspected fractures from the altercation.
Brown said McGrier had a previous run-in with the same police officer — whom he identified as Officer Arthur Williams — in June that resulted in McGrier being charged with assaulting the officer, disorderly conduct, obstructing and hindering, and resisting arrest. Brown said that in that incident and in the one Saturday, McGrier was targeted without justification by the officer.
“It seems like this officer had just decided that Dashawn was going to be his punching bag,” Brown said. “And this was a brutal attack that was degrading and demeaning to my client, to that community, and to the police department.”
Williams could not be reached for comment.
Tuggle did not identify the officer or the man who was punched, but the department said the officer has been on the force for just over a year.
At Williams’ graduation from the police academy last year, he received awards for top performance, including for high marks in “defense tactics, physical training and emergency vehicle operations,” for his “academic achievement, professional attitude, appearance, ability to supervise,” and for his “tireless and unwavering dedication” and “outstanding leadership ability,” according to a video of the graduation ceremony.
The police department said the incident Saturday began after two officers stopped McGrier, let him go, then approached him again to give him a citizen contact sheet.
“When he was asked for his identification, the situation escalated when he refused,” the department said. “The police officer then struck the man several times.”
Brown said McGrier was sitting on steps when Williams passed by in his vehicle, then moments later was walking down the street when the officer, now on foot, told him to stop without giving him a reason.
“My client was saying, ‘What is this all about? You don’t even have probable cause,’ ” Brown said. That’s when Williams began shoving McGrier, Brown said.
Tuggle asked anyone who witnessed the incident to contact the Office of Professional Responsibility at 410-396-2300.
“While I have an expectation that officers are out of their cars, on foot, and engaging citizens, I expect that it will be done professionally and constitutionally,” he said. “I have zero tolerance for behavior like I witnessed on the video today. Officers have a responsibility and duty to control their emotions in the most stressful of situations.”
The incident occurred Saturday outside Q’s Bar and Liquors in the 2600 block of E. Monument St. in East Baltimore.
The video shows the officer pushing McGrier against a wall, with his hand on McGrier’s chest, and then McGrier pushing the officer’s hand off his chest. It is then that the officer starts swinging.
The officer throws repeated punches, shoves McGrier onto rowhouse steps and continues beating him until McGrier lands on the pavement. McGrier appears to be bleeding when he gets to the ground.
McGrier appears to try to deflect some of the officer’s punches but does not punch back.
A second officer, who the department did not identify, briefly places his hand on McGrier’s arm as McGrier tries to avoid the blows but does not appear to try to stop the first officer from throwing punches.
Shantel Allen, 28, who said she grew up with McGrier and considers him like a brother, called the escalation of the encounter by Williams shocking.
“I was speechless. I was enraged. I was hurt. I was shocked more than anything. That is really something you don’t expect,” she said. “I truly feel as though this officer needs to be dealt with in a very serious manner, so none of his fellow officers or anyone else in the criminal justice system feels like they can use this kind of force.
“This is a crime. You can’t just go around putting your hands on people,” she said.
Brown said Internal Affairs officers were at the hospital to speak with McGrier. Brown said he also had spoken with the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Mosby’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The police department said Mosby’s office “provided information related to this case,” but did not explain what that meant.
Several men on Monument Street at the time — who asked not to be named, for fear of reprisal from the police for discussing the matter — said the officer who threw the punches knew McGrier from prior interactions, and that they believed he was targeting him.
They said the officer is young and had previously worked foot patrol along the corridor, but recently began working out of a car.
The men said the officer stopped McGrier on Saturday without good reason, which is why McGrier was talking back to the officer before the officer started throwing punches.
“He knows his rights, and he felt as though his rights were being violated, and he took offense to that,” one man said.
That the officer responded physically was completely out of line, and must result in serious consequences, the men said.
“We want justice. We don’t want things like that to happen. We want him to be held accountable, and not no paid suspension,” one man said.
Mayor Catherine Pugh echoed Tuggle in a statement late Saturday, in which she also called the encounter between the officer and McGrier “disturbing.” She said she was in touch with Tuggle and had “demanded answers and accountability.”
“We are working day and night to bring about a new era of community-based, Constitutional policing and will not be deterred by this or any other instance that threatens our efforts to re-establish the trust of all citizens in the Baltimore Police Department,” the mayor said.
City Councilman Brandon Scott said the department did the right thing by suspending the officer. Scott said he spoke with Tuggle after seeing the video, and the commissioner assured him it would be handled appropriately. He said the officer should be fired.
“You see that video and you see what we are trying to prevent in the police department,” said Scott, who is chair of the council’s public safety committee. “It goes against the consent decree and the work we’re trying to do to rebuild trust between the community and the police department.”
The city entered into a federal consent decree in 2017 after the U.S. Justice Department found officers routinely violated people’s constitutional rights.
The justice department’s investigation began soon after the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray following injuries he suffered in police custody. The 2015 incident became a flashpoint in the national conversation about police brutality.
Despite increased oversight, the city’s police department has had numerous scandals in recent months, including allegations of police misconduct.
Police said late last month that they were reviewing a different piece of viral civilian footage depicting a tense interaction with officers. The video shows a young boy being forcefully brought to the ground and handcuffed by an officer.
As the officer puts the boy into a police car, he is recorded saying, “I’m about to send this kid to the [expletive] hospital.”
Jurors recently indicted Officer Carlos Rivera-Martinez on charges of first-degree assault and misconduct in office for an incident that took place July 5, 2016. The officer allegedly beat up a young man, then 16 years old, as the boy was walking downtown on his way to his brother’s house.
Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor and a former head of the NAACP, condemned the officer’s actions in a statement, saying the video “shows just how far community-police relations have fallen in Baltimore, as well as the work that must be done in partnership with city officials to restore trust.”
Jealous said he was “heartened” that the officer was promptly suspended.
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, wrote on Twitter that there “must be a swift, immediate, and definitive response” to the officer’s actions from Pugh and the police department. “This is a flagrant violation of the letter & spirit of the consent decree. This is not what reform looks like.”
Ken Thompson, the court-appointed consent decree monitor, said in a statement late Saturday that he had conveyed to Tuggle that the incident “warrants immediate investigation,” and that his monitoring team will be “watching closely in the coming days” to see how the police department conducts that work.
“This is an important moment for the Baltimore Police Department,” Thompson said. “It is an opportunity for the Department to show the Monitoring team, the Court, and the community that when its officers are involved in an incident that raises serious questions about compliance with Department policies regarding the use of force (not to mention the U.S. Constitution) it will move swiftly to conduct a thorough, transparent, and fair investigation.”
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the union that represents rank-and-file officers, also said he believed Tuggle took “the appropriate action” by suspending the officer pending an investigation.
Ryan said there might be more to the story that he doesn’t know, but that “at first view” the video of the incident showed “inexcusable behavior” on the part of the officer that the department “can’t tolerate.”
Ryan said officers are allowed to use force when individuals are resisting arrest, but the man in the video did not appear to be acting in an aggressive manner.
“I’d like to believe that there is more to it, but obviously, it really makes us look bad,” Ryan said. “That’s something we don’t need right now. We don’t need another black eye.”
Brown said he hopes city officials take the matter seriously, because the treatment of his client is unacceptable.
“The animus, the hatred almost that you could see on the officer’s part, the way he just beat this guy down, was startling. It’s such an ugly act that has such a damning impact on the city as a whole, the police department, police-community relations,” Brown said. “It’s not just an attack on my client, it’s an attack on the whole community.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.