An Annapolis man who had been accused of touching off a racially tinged melee by striking two police officers last March at a shooting scene in Bywater was acquitted yesterday.
An all-white Circuit Court jury deliberated for only about half an hour before finding Vernon Kilroy Johnson, 22, not guilty of two counts of battery. Afterward, jurors said the prosecution had failed to prove its claims that Johnson had struck two Annapolis police officers at a crime scene last March 14.
Four Annapolis police officers suffered minor injuries during the fight that broke out during an investigation into the shooting of a police officer's son. The 22-year-old man survived the shooting in the parking lot of the Bywater Recreation Center on Copeland Street.
Residents complained that the predominantly white group of at least a half-dozen officers used excessive force to contain a mostly black crowd.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the incident for possible civil rights violations by the police.
Testimony in the trial, which began Friday, showed Johnson, of the 1900 block Copeland Street, arrived at the scene as a passenger in a red car which matched the description of a vehicle wanted in connection with the shooting. Johnson testified he got out of the car and approached his brother, who was being arrested, and was hit on the side of the head.
Police officers testified during the trial that Johnson hit Officer Dewayne Nuckles and Sgt. John Mellon after the police reached into the car to turn down a radio playing at "deafening" volume. The prosecution produced a photograph of the defendant standing behind the officer near the car door and claimed it showed Johnson was in a fighting mood.
But the officers' versions of Johnson's attacks varied in their details.
Assistant State's Attorney John LeCornu said, "Things were fizzing and soon popping. That may explain some of the discrepancies, if you perceive them, in the testimony."
Pointing to the police officers' testimony that Johnson was subdued with a blow to his head with a blackjack, LeCornu said, "If the defendant got conked on the noggin sometime that night that's regrettable, but maybe that tells you something about the situation."
During his closing argument yesterday, defense attorney Nelson R.
Stewart criticized police for inflaming the situation by overreacting to a crowd of people singing and dancing at least 50 feet from the crime scene.
"Let them sing, let them dance, let them play because they are not in the way," Stewart said.
He added that the police prompted the donnybrook by hitting Johnson in the head. A number of arrests were made after the fight.
Stewart said the verdict should send a message to city police to show "sensitivity" in its crowd-control policies.