Mistrial declared in trial of officer

Jury fails to reach unanimous decision on perjury, assault charges

Prosecutor to seek new trial

March 07, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A mistrial was declared yesterday in the assault case against Baltimore police Officer Clyde Rawlins Jr. after jurors deliberated for more than 10 hours over two days without reaching a unanimous decision.

Rawlins, 25, was on trial on charges of perjury, misconduct in office and second-degree assault stemming from a July 9 incident in West Baltimore that led to a scuffle with Larry Nathaniel, who suffered a black eye.

Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth A. Ritter, who prosecuted the case, said she will seek a new trial.

Rawlins declined to comment.

"Clyde is obviously relieved that this trial is over," his attorney, Michael Belsky, said yesterday, before Ritter said she would seek a new trial. "He wishes that he had more of a sense of closure to this and hopes that the state's attorney's office will elect not to retry this case. If they do, however, we hope that we will get a more fair trial. It seemed evident to me from the questions that they [jurors] did not understand all of the judge's instructions, which is of considerable concern."

The jury of eight women and four men sent several questions to Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock. One was: "Do the words in the second-degree assault instructions, `offensive physical harm,' mean physical injury?"

Another asked: "What is the difference between offensive physical harm and offensive physical contact?"

Juror Gloria Lee said she didn't think the state proved its case and declined to comment further.

Juror Nancy Wagner said she thought Rawlins should have been convicted of assault.

"I felt very strongly that he was guilty of the charge of second-degree assault," said Wagner, 49, a child care worker from South Baltimore. "It seemed to me there was just the issue of the police officer and Larry Nathaniel in a minor, verbal altercation that escalated into a very bad situation. ... "

In July, Rawlins and Detective Ray Hunter were patrolling Argyle Avenue, a known drug area, when Hunter saw Sean Washington make a throwing motion. Believing he had discarded illegal drugs, Hunter asked Washington to come to the patrol car. At that time, Nathaniel began shouting obscenities and told Washington, the uncle of his infant son, not to go to the police. Rawlins and Nathaniel exchanged words, a scuffle ensued and Nathaniel suffered a black eye before being arrested.

Nathaniel was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, charges later dropped.

Wagner said that when jurors went home Monday, they agreed on an assault conviction, but by yesterday seven had changed their minds.

It was not clear how jurors felt about the perjury and misconduct charges.

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