A Baltimore policeman was convicted yesterday of beating a 14-year-old Baltimore County boy last May after he stopped a busload of schoolchildren to find out which one of them had thrown a plank that cracked the windshield of his car.
"There was too much force used in this situation -- just too much force used on the victim," said Baltimore County District Judge Patricia S. Pytash before sentencing the officer, John C. Fletcher Jr., to two years' supervised probation for assault and battery.
In his defense, Fletcher, a tactical officer, told the court that he was "duty-bound to take action" the afternoon of May 31 when he stopped the yellow school bus at the corner of Patterson Avenue and Marott Drive to question the Pikesville Middle School students about the broken windshield.
The bus driver, John W. Johnson, testified that Fletcher, who was off duty at the time, had driven his white Honda behind the bus for several blocks, then sped ahead at the next stop and blocked the path.
Mr. Johnson said Fletcher showed him a badge through the driver's window and identified himself as a policeman, then ordered several youths who were leaving the bus to get back inside.
One of them, 14-year-old Jacques A. Brown, seemed to be "taking his time," the bus driver said.
"He tried to make that boy get on the bus, but that boy just wouldn't get on," Mr. Johnson said.
More words passed between the boy and the man, then arms and fists whirled in the air as other children watched, screaming, from the windows of the bus.
"He hit that boy two or three times," Mr. Johnson said of the police officer, who was taller and stouter than the boy. "I didn't see the boy hit him at all. I saw the boy trying to get out of his way."
Another 14-year-old tried to intervene, but Fletcher pushed him away. Fletcher testified that Jacques Brown cursed him and that he felt
the two youths were about to attack him. "The young man I was confronted with that day was not a Tom Thumb-type," Fletcher said. "He was loud, profane, emotionally unstable and headed right for me."
The children on the bus, who said Fletcher was wearing a yellow jacket and never identified himself to them as a police officer, said he tussled with Jacques, then shoved the boy onto the bus. Jacques cursed at the man outside as the bus doors slammed shut, and friends urged him to calm down.
Fletcher ushered the bus to a side street and stood guard at the front door for several minutes as children aboard screamed and cried.
In the midst of the chaos, Marion DeVoe slid out of a rear window and ran to a pay telephone to call his mother.
Angela DeVoe arrived at the bus as Baltimore County police Officer Kevin Kahl, who had answered a call to the scene, questioned Fletcher about detaining the schoolchildren.
Mrs. DeVoe said she told Jacques to get off the bus, but as he approached the adults, Fletcher reached out and grabbed him.
"Mr. Fletcher grabbed Jacques and threw him on the police car and proceeded to beat him in the face," Mrs. DeVoe said. "He had a choke hold on him. He kept saying, 'This one's going down, this one's going down.' "
The youth was later treated at a hospital for a small bump on his head and minor cuts and scratches on his neck.
Officer Kahl testified that Fletcher lost his composure, insisting that the county officer arrest the youth. When the request was denied, Fletcher demanded that he be allowed to make a citizen's arrest -- also denied.
Officer Kahl said Fletcher became upset when he would not lock up the boy.
"I didn't have anything to arrest him on," the county officer said. "And I didn't think it was right to stop the bus."
Fletcher's attorney, Patricia Hall, told Judge Pytash she would appeal the ruling.
The officer also has filed charges of assault against Jacques Brown's mother, Edna Swann, for allegedly attacking him.
Baltimore police spokeswoman Arlene K. Jenkins said departmental action against the officer would depend on an investigation by the police Internal Affairs Division.