Police Vs. Linebacker

Our View: Police Deserve Benefit Of The Doubt In Incident With Ravens Player

August 25, 2009

Considering all the anxiety about crime and violence around the Inner Harbor this summer - and the calls for city police to patrol the area more closely - conflicts over individual civil liberties versus more aggressive policing were bound to arise. But even under those circumstances, the arrest of Anthony Fein, a Ravens player who was charged Sunday with assaulting a city officer, is an unfortunate result for all involved.

Certain key facts in the incident remain in dispute, but this much is clear: Police were summoned to the Johnny Rockets restaurant in the Light Street pavilion after receiving a report of a group of men passing around a large, silvery object that security personnel thought might be a gun.

According to police, Mr. Fein was in that group of four diners and when police asked him to stand up, he initially refused. When he reached for the object in his pocket, an officer told him to show his hands - and he shoved that officer, Sgt. Joseph Donato, in the chest.

Mr. Fein's agent says his 27-year-old client, who is black and was wearing a hoodie sweat shirt at the time, did no shoving. He blamed the incident on police profiling and said the officer was overly aggressive.

Here is another important fact not in dispute: There was no gun. The object in question was a cell phone.

That Mr. Fein is a 6-foot 2-inch, 245-pound backup linebacker for the Ravens is not particularly relevant - although it obviously has raised public interest in the case. That he is also an Iraq war veteran is a credit to his character but also not a factor in the incident.

Rather, what the episode boils down to is whether Mr. Fein put his hands on Sergeant Donato. That's unacceptable behavior by anyone - aspiring football player, recent war veteran or average citizen.

We are not so naive to believe that police officers are always as polite and respectful as they should be with the public, white or black. Remember last year's infamous YouTube video of the city officer hassling a skateboarder who called him "Dude"?

But officers investigating something as serious as a report of a handgun being passed around at an Inner Harbor restaurant deserve some benefit of the doubt. It shouldn't be difficult to find witnesses at such a public venue to either verify or refute the police account.

The notion that racial profiling might be involved could possibly explain the behavior of security guards (although a 20-something African-American man in downtown Baltimore is hardly a novelty - even one wearing a hoodie). But once the allegation was made, city officers had a responsibility to fully investigate it.

As a police spokesman noted, "people can't be jerks at the Inner Harbor." The gang-related shooting earlier this month near Phillips Seafood has already frayed nerves. No matter whether Mr. Fein is determined to be guilty or not, the incident should serve as a reminder that public cooperation - and sometimes even a bit of patience - is needed for police to do their job effectively.

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