Police officers ride roughshod over justice

February 20, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Early on the evening of May 9, 1992, Benjamin Orlando, a 47-year-old high school science teacher from Harford County, stood on the parking lot at Camden Yards and, much to the confusion of two city police officers, committed an honest act.

Orlando had four tickets to that night's Orioles game that he couldn't use. The tickets cost $13 each, and he immediately sold them at face value -- a total of $52.

This is known as Not Breaking the Law.

But Orlando immediately found himself seized from behind by two uniformed Baltimore police officers, Albert Marcus and Christopher Cooper, who'd witnessed the sale from about 20 yards away and now pushed his head down, yanked his arms behind his back and handcuffed him.

"What's going on?" said Orlando, who is 5 feet 6 inches tall, wears glasses and has never been in trouble in his life.

"Shut the f--- up," said Marcus, an 18-year veteran whose nickname, Mad Dog, was once carried on his license tags.

"I haven't done anything," said Orlando.

"Shut the f--- up," Marcus said again. "You were scalping tickets."

"I wasn't scalping," said Orlando. "You can check with my friend," Stanley Lloyd, a Harford County Realtor who owned the four season tickets. Lloyd was waiting nearby in his car. He was feeling ill, which is why Orlando and he wanted to head home to Harford County instead of watching the Orioles play.

"You think we're gonna screw around with you all night?" said Marcus. "We get stories like this from pimps and pushers all the time."

Orlando was flabbergasted and also in pain. He tried to stay calm -- and, last week, in Baltimore Circuit Court, the two arresting officers admitted he was "a perfect gentleman" at all times.

"Could you loosen the cuffs?" he asked. "They're extremely tight."

"Tight?" said Marcus. "They look fine to me."

As he heard Marcus' response, Orlando testified in court last week, he felt the officer tightening the handcuffs even further.

"I'm not gonna run away," said Orlando, humiliated as he was led, bent over, through the gathering ballpark crowd to a police command post inside the stadium. There, he was put into a locked cell, still handcuffed, where he waited for more than two hours, with the cuffs biting into his wrists.

"Do you have to keep me in cuffs behind a locked door?" Orlando asked. "I'm in extreme pain. I can't go anywhere."

"Live with it, a------," said Marcus.

In court last week, Orlando, recapping these events, testified that he sat in the cell thinking, "My whole life, I was always told, 'Respect police, teachers and priests. You give them respect, they give it to you.' I called them sir. And they treated me like an animal."

Meanwhile, the two officers had removed $52 from his pocket and then, after Orlando gave them the exact seat numbers, they retrieved the four tickets he'd sold. Simple math should have given them the message: Orlando had done nothing wrong. Selling tickets for their face value is no crime.

But, two hours later, with Orlando still in cuffs, instead of (P apologizing and letting him go, they marched him to a police van outside the ballpark. Orlando's friend Stanley Lloyd was there. When he tried to explain the situation, the officers told him to back off. Then, Orlando and Lloyd testified last week, the two officers shoved Orlando into a van, smashing his head into the ceiling.

"I was stunned," Orlando testified. "I was helpless. I couldn't see if I was cut or bleeding, and I couldn't get my arms up to feel anything. I felt betrayed. I thought, 'I haven't done anything wrong.' "

He was taken to Southern District lockup. A desk sergeant looked atthe charges and pointed out that the four $13 tickets had been sold for $52.

"I'm aware it's $52," said Marcus. "Do the paperwork, it's my arrest."

"Have a great night on the city," Officer Cooper, an eight-year police veteran, told Orlando as he was marched to a cell. On the way, Orlando testified last week, he heard other inmates calling to him, "We're gonna get you tonight," and "We're gonna beat you."

There was waste on the floor of his cell, and a man in the next cell urinated into Orlando's cell and spit across the bars while Orlando cringed in a corner until he was released at 2:30 the next morning.

One month later, Orlando went to trial, where a funny thing happened: Sanity began to return. The ticket-scalping charge was dropped. But, in its place, there was a new charge: selling tickets without a license.

But there is no such licensing law, not if tickets are sold at face value. So, when the second charge was brought to court, prosecutors dropped that, also.

But Orlando's problems weren't over. The handcuffs, digging into his wrists for nearly three hours, had done damage. Numbness started a few days after the arrest. He began seeing specialists, who told him he'd suffered permanent nerve damage.

Now, he says, he no longer has full use of his thumbs. He can't type, can't pick up chalk to write on a classroom blackboard, can't handle small objects, needs his wife to button his shirt buttons every day.

In a hushed courtroom, last week, Orlando testified, "I used to build tiny engines for remote control cars with my son. I can't do that anymore. I can't even pick coins up from a table."

He was in court because he'd sued the two officers, charging them with false arrest and false imprisonment, and asking for $500,000 in damages. A jury took 90 minutes to return with its verdict: Guilty of all charges, and $515,000 in damages.

How could an honest citizen be put through such an ordeal?

In Tuesday's column: A look at the two policemen.

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