Deputies fired unfairly, they say

Two say they `had to take the fall' for another officer in wrongful stun gun attack

February 25, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Two Baltimore sheriff's deputies who were fired for a wrongful stun gun attack that sparked outrage in the Hispanic community last summer are claiming that they "had to take the fall" for another officer.

Sheriff's Department reports say Anthony Spence, 31, and Clyde Boatwright, 25, were not the officers wielding the stun gun in the incident, in which a Salvadoran construction worker was mistaken for a bank robber and assaulted in front of a lunchtime crowd at Lexington Market.

The deputies, who had been on the force for a year and a half, said they have not been given a reason for their termination. The deputy who official documents say used the stun gun, Massimiliano Poma, was suspended for one day.

"I would love an explanation," Spence said. "What rules did I violate? I'm baffled."

Poma couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. Col. Toby Goodwin, spokesman for the department, said he could not speak about the matter because it deals with confidential personnel issues.

Spence and Boatwright were scheduled for an exit interview yesterday, but when they showed up, they were told by an office secretary that the interviews would not take place.

Their termination stems from an incident Sept. 18, when Rolando Sanchez, 26, who speaks little English, went to Lexington Market for lunch just before noon.

About the same time, a deputy was in a downtown bank when it was robbed. The suspect fled, and the deputy put out a distress call over her radio with a description of the suspect, who was running toward the market.

Spence and Boatwright, on lunch break from guarding the Baltimore Circuit Courthouse, gave chase and ended up in the market.

They noticed Sanchez, who, wearing a yellow shirt, a hard hat and khaki shorts, resembled the description of the suspect.

They stopped him and grabbed his arms, they said.

Other police and security officers who were chasing the suspected bank robber converged around Sanchez and forced him to the floor, Spence said.

Sanchez was on the floor with one hand pinned beneath him and the other handcuffed. While Sanchez was surrounded by law enforcement officers, Poma, a four-year veteran, shot him at least twice in the back of the neck with a stun gun, sheriff's reports said.

Spence and Boatwright said they think Poma, 32, used excessive force in using the stun gun because Sanchez was being detained on the floor.

"He didn't resist enough to be tased," Boatwright said, using a term referring to the stun gun.

The attack sparked outrage among leaders in the Hispanic community, who met with members of the Sheriff's Department this month and demanded action in response to the incident.

Days later, Spence and Boatwright - who had no prior internal complaints against them - were fired.

Michael E. Davey, the lawyer representing Spence and Boatwright, said he can't help the pair get their jobs back. Neither man was covered by the police officers' Bill of Rights, which grants a hearing to any law enforcement agent who is fired.

Spence was on probation because he had just been promoted. Boatwright does not have Bill of Rights privileges because they are not extended to court security officers.

"I can't do anything for them because of the manner in which they are employed," Davey said. "They didn't have any rights."

Davey said he thinks Spence and Boatwright are scapegoats.

"My impression is, someone had to take the fall for this and these guys were the easiest to get rid of," he said. "Their involvement with Sanchez was minimal."

Lt. Michael James, the supervisor on the scene, was given a three-day suspension.

The Sheriff's Department, in its investigation summary, which was obtained by The Sun, points to several reasons for the dismissal of Spence and Boatwright. The deputies say they were not given a copy.

The summary concluded that "deputy Boatwright and Spence admitted to leaving their post without authorization from a supervisor and failed to use proper arrest procedures for an injured person."

Both men dispute that, saying they were on lunch break and were helping an officer in distress.

The document says Poma "failed to render aid or assistance to an injured person who was tased; failed to complete an appropriate investigation; and failed to notify a supervisor. Moreover failed to follow this agency's policy as to treatment of persons in custody and or arrest procedures."

The stun gun shooting left Sanchez with torn tendons and ligaments in his shoulder, and recurring migraine headaches, said his lawyer, J. Stephen Simms. Sanchez has not been able to work since the attack.

Spence and Boatwright say they have been treated unfairly and want their jobs back. They say they have families to support and bills to pay.

"I'm really still in shock about the whole deal," Boatwright said.

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