Officer says he didn't assault man during scuffle

Policeman shows court how he subdued suspect

March 03, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore police officer accused of assaulting a man he arrested last summer took the witness stand yesterday and denied punching the suspect, whom he had wrestled to the ground during a scuffle.

Officer Clyde Rawlins Jr., who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of assault, perjury and misconduct in office, spent an hour detailing a two-minute encounter with Larry Nathaniel in the 1400 block of Argyle Ave., which began with an argument and ended with the 19-year-old handcuffed and suffering a black eye.

"I never hit him," Rawlins said, after he demonstrated to the jury how he tried to subdue what he described as a combative suspect by having his lawyer, Michael Belsky, lie on his back on the courtroom floor, playing the part of Nathaniel.

The officer said he might have poked Nathaniel in the eye inadvertently as he engulfed the suspect in a bear-hug during the scuffle, but never assaulted him.

The trial, expected to conclude next week, has produced confusing and contradictory testimony of what happened July 9 when Rawlins and his partner, Detective Raymond Hunter, stopped a man on Argyle Avenue.

Yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth A. Ritter tried to poke holes in Rawlins' testimony.

After Rawlins testified that he was concerned about Nathaniel because he was causing a disturbance that drew hostile bystanders, she noted that several witnesses, including Hunter, did not notice a crowd growing. "How come you are the only person who saw all those people?" Ritter asked him.

"I know what I saw," Rawlins answered.

Rawlins said he and Hunter stopped on the block after seeing a man, later identified as Sean Washington, make a throwing motion with his hand, a common tactic to discard drugs. As Hunter questioned the man, Nathaniel stood on his front steps and shouted obscenities and urged the man not to cooperate.

Nathaniel has admitted yelling and exchanging words with Rawlins. He testified this week that Rawlins tried to grab his pants pocket. "I pushed his hand off my pant leg," Nathaniel said. "Then he rushed me up into the house and threw me into a couple of walls."

Rawlins said yesterday that he noticed something in Nathaniel's pocket and thought it might be a weapon. He said Nathaniel refused to take his hands out of his pocket, so he reached for his arm.

"He slapped my hand," Rawlins said, adding that by then six people had gathered around, all yelling. He said he grabbed Nathaniel by the shirt, causing it to rip, and the two tumbled inside the open rowhouse door.

Rawlins said Nathaniel continued to resist, and that at one point he climbed on top of the suspect and used his forearm to press the suspect's hands down.

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