A county police officer charged with beating a man during a traffic stop last year was found innocent by a departmental hearing board yesterday, despite testimony from three witnesses who said they saw him hit the man.
After more than two hours of deliberation, the board of three county officers found Officer Donald Staten innocent of excessive force, failing to file a report and failing to identify himself.
The officer said he was happy with the verdict and added, "Overall, with the new chief, there is a better rapport, and I think the trial boards will be a lot fairer."
Staten had received a one-day suspension after fighting with two Baltimore City officers last May.
Yesterday's verdict, delivered without comment, came after a five-hour administrative hearing. Three witnesses testified that Staten hit David Corzine, 44, after stopping him May 18 at the intersection of Ritchie Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard in Glen Burnie.
"He didn't speak or show his badge," witness Gerald Moschel said. "He reached in, grabbed him by the shirt and punched him."
According totestimony, Staten, an undercover narcotics officer at the time, was dressed in plainclothes and in an unmarked car with Florida license plates about 1:30 p.m. when he saw Corzine pull out from a shopping center along Ritchie Highway.
Staten testified that Corzine was weaving and cut him off. As they pulled up to the red light at Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, Staten got out of his car and approached Corzine.
"He yanked the door open, reached in, grabbed me and hit me on the side of the head," Corzine, a mail processor, testified. "He dragged me across the street and threw me on the ground."
Bonnie Sheppard, who was riding in a car with Moschel, also said she saw Staten hit Corzine.
"He opened the door and he just grabbed him out," Sheppard said. "He walked him over to the grass and threw him down to the ground. He landed on his back."
Sheppard and Moschel testified that they thought Corzine, who later registered a .19 blood alcohol level, was drunk. They said Corzine tried to light a cigarette, and Staten knocked it out of his hands.
But Staten, a four-year veteran of the department, testified that he never hit Corzine and that he identified himself as a police officer.
"What everyone is seeing is me reaching into the car and hitting the gear lever," he said.
Statensaid he could smell alcohol on Corzine and, after putting the car inpark, he took the keys and threw them on the passenger side floor.
"I saw Mr. Corzine exit his car, and I went up to him and grabbed him and walked him over to the grassy portion of Route 2," he said.
Staten said he was concerned that Corzine would get hit by a car.
The officer, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs 270 pounds, testified that people perceive him to be brutal or scary because of his size. "Here'sa big black guy who grabs a small white guy," he said.
Officer Steve Dunn, one of the officers who responded to Staten's call for a drunken driver, testified that Staten told him Corzine had refused to turn his car off, so he reached in and did it himself and "somehow" hit him.
Officer James A. Walker, who also responded and charged Corzine with drunken driving, said Staten asked if Corzine was claiming he had been hit.
"I don't recall (Corzine's) exact words, but he said he had given the officer the finger and he didn't think it was right that he was jerked out of the car and slapped," Walker testified.
According to testimony, Corzine never filed a complaint against Staten. The officerwas charged June 6 after Internal Affairs was told of the incident by other officers in the department.
Investigatorsdid not begin to interview witnesses until August.
"It's a way for some members of the department to retaliate against me since the Baltimore City incident," Staten testified.
On May 30, Staten, whileworking undercover as a drug dealer, was stopped on Ritchie Highway by two off-duty Baltimore City officers in their private car.
A scuffle broke out before the Baltimore City officers realized Staten was a county officer.
Since being hired by the county on Oct. 1, 1987, Staten has been reprimanded for not following departmental procedures, improper conduct toward the public and failure to report for duty.
He was also the subject of Internal Affairs probes in July 1988and February 1989. He was cleared of charges both times.
Of 48 excessive force complaints filed since 1988, none have resulted in action against a police officer. One is still under investigation.