Post-election revelry ends at jail

JHU professor, 15 others arrested then released after celebrating on city street

Election 2008

November 06, 2008|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

A group of at least 16 people, including a Johns Hopkins University professor, said they were wrongfully arrested during a spontaneous post-election celebration early yesterday in Charles Village. But Baltimore police say officers acted to disperse a large, loud crowd after receiving complaints from neighbors and a nearby hospital.

None of those arrested, who gathered outside Baltimore's Central Booking and Intake Center after their release about 9 a.m. yesterday, were charged with a crime, they said. Some said they had been threatened with charges of inciting a riot and disorderly conduct, though they said the gathering of about 200 people was peaceful but loud.

"It was nonsense," said Aaron Goodfellow, 41, a professor in Hopkins' anthropology department. Goodfellow said he and a graduate student left an election-night party after news broke that Sen. Barack Obama was elected president. They saw the gathering and stopped to participate, and both were later arrested, he said.

"It was just pure enthusiasm. There was no destruction of property," Goodfellow said. About the arrests, Goodfellow said: "It was out of control, excessive and, yeah, I'm really angry."

Sterling Clifford, a Baltimore Police Department spokesman, said officers had been monitoring the gathering at St. Paul and 33rd streets for two hours. About 2 a.m., he said, police received five complaints from the neighborhood about the loud noise, including one from nearby Union Memorial Hospital, and "made the determination it was time to close it down."

"As is sometimes the case, there were people who did not want to go home," Clifford said.

Clifford said Union Memorial reported that one of its entrances and a nearby intersection were blocked by members of the crowd. He said the crowd was chanting: "These are our streets. We won't go."

"We made a reasonable effort to accommodate those people," Clifford said. "You can't just let it go on indefinitely, partly out of concerns for their safety, and partly out of concerns for the neighborhood."

Some of the participants interviewed yesterday morning said the crowd was loud but that they weren't in the streets when they were arrested. Some were Hopkins students, while others were area residents or students from other schools, including Goucher College and Towson University.

A person posted a 14-second video clip on You Tube.com that purportedly was shot during the police crackdown. The video shows three officers wrestling with someone who is lying on the ground in front of a Subway restaurant on the southeast corner of St. Paul and 33rd.

A woman can be heard on the video yelling: "Somebody take pictures ... take pictures."

Jeff Levine, 19, a Hopkins sophomore, said he was trying to push his way through a "huge mob" of people in front of his apartment building at St. Paul and 33rd streets about 2 a.m. He was returning home after spending the evening at an election-night party with friends and said that he was not an Obama supporter.

He said an officer shoved him from behind, toward his building, and when he turned around, the officer applied a stun device to his upper abdomen area. "It hurt. I couldn't move my body," Levine said. He said he asked officials at Central Booking if he could talk to a lawyer.

"They told me I didn't even need one" because he would be released without charges, Levine said.

Zach Warner, 19, a Hopkins sophomore, said officers cursed at him and threatened him with arrest when he tried to get their names and badge numbers. Warner, who avoided arrest, said he and others took photos of the officers with their cell phones. He said he watched one woman tell an officer that she had the right to assemble peacefully, and moments later, the officer threw her to the ground.

"All of these students, this was their first time voting, their first time to express their civil liberties," Warner said. "And to see civil liberties taken away from us is just disgusting."

Clifford said there were spontaneous celebrations across the city overnight but that, so far as he knew, no other arrests had been made at public gatherings.

David Rocah, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Baltimore, said the group fielded calls yesterday from people who were arrested or who had witnessed the events and that the civil rights group was gathering information about an incident he regarded as "troubling."

"Even if it wasn't illegal, I think it raises real questions about the Baltimore City Police Department's crowd-control policies and what is the right way for people to handle a situation like this," Rocah said.

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