3 face civil rights case

Police officer, 2 retired officers indicted in beating of teen and cover-up

April 02, 2009|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

A Baltimore police officer and two retired officers have been indicted on federal civil rights and obstruction of justice charges in the beating of a 17-year-old boy five years ago and its cover-up, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.

In 2005, Officer Gregory M. Mussmacher, 34, was found guilty by a Baltimore Circuit Court judge of misdemeanor assault and misconduct in office for striking the teen in an incident in late April 2004. But Mussmacher's conviction was overturned on appeal, leading the Justice Department to take on the case, officials said. Mussmacher, who joined the department in 2000, was suspended with pay in April 2004 and remained so during the federal agency's investigation, Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said.

According to the six-count federal indictment, unsealed Wednesday, and other court records, Benjamin Ruben Rowland, now 22, was arguing with his sister at their former home on Glengyle Avenue in Baltimore. She called police, and among the officers responding was Mussmacher, who arrived late to the scene and took charge, questioning Rowland.

When the teenager complained about his handcuffs, Mussmacher is alleged to have handed his service weapon and badge to another officer, uncufffed the teen and challenged him to a fight, which the youth declined. Mussmacher then sprayed him with pepper spray and hit him in the face with a baton before transferring him to the Northwest District station, the records state.

There, Officer Guy Gerstel, now retired, hit the teenager in the back with a pool stick from a recreation room and then lied about it to the FBI and on the witness stand, court papers allege. Sgt. Wayne Thompson, also now retired, is charged with obstructing justice, accused of writing a false statement and persuading other officers not to fill out required reports.

Guglielmi did not immediately have access to the retired officers' files. A Web site honoring city officers says Gerstel retired in October after 27 years with the department.

The case against the three defendants was investigated by the FBI with cooperation from the city Police Department.

In 2007, Rowland filed a civil lawsuit against Mussmacher and Gerstel in U.S. District Court; the suit was settled out of court, court records indicate.

"Most law enforcement officers perform their duties with honor and integrity," Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. "Any police officers who abuse suspects, write false reports and obstruct justice must be held accountable so that citizens can have confidence in law enforcement agencies."

A Justice Department civil rights division attorney is prosecuting the case.

We take "very seriously any allegation of police misconduct," said Loretta King, the division's acting assistant attorney general. We're "committed to prosecuting all cases of official misconduct, and to bringing to justice any officer who abuses the tremendous authority and responsibility entrusted to him or her."

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