Police challenge group's account of alleged beating Baltimore County officers say man was being arrested

April 26, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun David Ettlin of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

Baltimore County police released yesterday an account of the beating of a 20-year-old black man that conflicts with descriptions of the incident provided by a minority group that has accused county police of brutality and harassment.

The Coalition of African American Organizations said at a news conference Wednesday that it would ask for federal and state investigations of county police conduct because of alleged incidents of brutality against blacks by officers and on-the-job harassment of black officers.

The Rev. W. James Favorite said that a "discourteous act" by a police officer "sparked" an incident April 12 in which a "youth was thrown to the ground, kicked in the face and ribs, and further beaten by four officers."

But a police report released yesterday gave a different account of the incident.

Four plainclothes officers were on a stakeout April 12 in the parking lot of the Best Western Motel on Security Boulevard at Whitehead Road about 2 p.m., the report said. Two of the officers in an unmarked car saw two black men loitering in a nearby parking lot who appeared to be "lookouts for a possible illicit narcotics operation," it said.

The other two officers were nearby but could not see their colleagues, the report said.

After about five minutes, the two men standing on the lot were joined by another man, and they walked over to the officers' unmarked vehicle, slowed and looked into the car from three to five feet away, the report, by one of the undercover officers in the car, said.

One of three men said, "You better have a gun you white m----- f-----," the report said.

One of the men, identified as Malcolm G. Underwood Jr., 20, of Walden Maple Court, Woodlawn, threatened the officers and ordered them out of the car, unaware they were police officers, the report said.

When the two officers would not get out, one of the men ran to a nearby Wendy's restaurant and returned with about seven others, and a car pulled in front of the police car, blocking its exit, the report said.

The officers requested assistance, alerting other officers that they were surrounded by a hostile crowd, according to the report.

But as one of the officers in the car tried to maneuver it through the crowd, Mr. Underwood cursed at the officers and kicked the passenger-side rear quarter panel of the car and damaged it, the report went on.

The officers got out of the car and chased Mr. Underwood, just as officers in marked patrol cars arrived, the report said.

One of the officers who had been in the car "grabbed [him] by the upper body and fell to the ground with" him, the report said.

Mr. Underwood hit at least two officers and pulled one officer's watch from his arm, while another officer ordered the "combative crowd" to leave immediately, according to the police report.

Mr. Underwood was charged with two counts of battery, two counts of malicious destruction of property and one count of disorderly conduct. He was released on $25,000 bail.

According to a police medical report, Mr. Underwood had back and eye injuries and blood in his urine. He was treated at St. Agnes Hospital.

The officers' names have been withheld at the request of police because they work undercover.

Mr. Favorite, president of the Coalition of African American Organizations, contested the police account yesterday.

L "That's not at all the way it was described to us," he said.

He said that Mr. Underwood told the coalition that he was on his way home from his job as a cook at a nearby Wendy's restaurant when he became embroiled in a dispute that was initiated by the plainclothes officers. He was beaten severely by officers who did not identify themselves as police, Mr. Favorite said he was told.

Mr. Underwood did not return phone calls to his home yesterday and last night.

The incident was one of five allegations of brutality and harassment cited by the coalition at its news conference Wednesday in general terms without any names, street addresses or dates. Mr. Favorite said none of the alleged victims attended the conference because they did not want to be identified publicly. However, he said yesterday that he hopes at least one of them will come forward in the next few days.

Other incidents cited by the group involved two cases where black officers alleged on-the-job harassment, including one in which a female officer with five years of experience attempted suicide by shooting herself in the stomach, allegedly because of harassment at work.

Efforts to contact her yesterday failed.

She remains on medical leave, a county police spokesman said.

Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, the spokesman, said that all the incidents described by the group that could be identified from details provided are either being or had been investigated by internal affairs officers.

The department has 1,529 officers and 114, or roughly 7 percent, are black, he said.

The coalition again declined to provide additional details of the incidents to county police or to reporters yesterday.

But Mr. Favorite said his group will ask the U.S. Justice Department and the Maryland attorney general's office to investigate the allegations of brutality and unfair labor practices against the county police.

A Justice Department spokesman said yesterday that no formal complaints had been filed by the group, but that the coalition had notified the department by telephone that a complaint might be coming.

An investigation can take "two weeks to two years," and the contents of complaints are not made public, said Amy Casner, an agency spokeswoman.

Officials at the Maryland attorney general's office said yesterday that they not received notice of any complaints.

David Ettlin of The Sun's metropolitan staff contributed to this article.

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