Sergeant suspended after police beating in College Park

Second officer suspended after video of incident surfaces

  • "He's on the ground, and they're beating him. He's not that much of a threat."—University of Maryland student Auston Edwards
"He's on the ground, and they're beating him.… (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina…)
April 14, 2010|By Mary Pat Flaherty and Ruben Castaneda, The Washington Post

Prince George's County police have suspended a sergeant who was at the scene of a beating last month of an unarmed University of Maryland student that occurred when crowds took to the streets celebrating a basketball victory. The beating was caught on a video that surfaced publicly Monday.

County police spokesman Maj. Andy Ellis declined to identify the officer but confirmed the suspension, which occurred Tuesday night and is part of the widening investigation of the beating and any failures to halt or report it. The sergeant is the second officer suspended.

Ellis estimated that internal affairs investigators had spoken with half of the approximately 100 officers who worked riot duty after a March 3 Maryland-Duke game. He said the department believes it has identified the three baton-wielding officers in the video and that they could be suspended soon. He said the officers will be identified publicly during or after the investigation.

The video, which has been aired nationwide and has cast a new light on Prince George's police tactics, shows the student skipping happily on a sidewalk when he stopped at a phalanx of officers on horseback. As he stood there, two Prince George's officers ran and attacked him. A third officer later joined the beating.

Ellis said the department is trying to balance the public interest in knowing how the department monitors officers with officers' due process and concerns about the officers' safety. Some have faced threats since the tape emerged, Ellis said.

Action against the sergeant follows an earlier suspension of Officer Sean McAleavey, who had filed charging documents about the incident.

The sworn charging documents made no mention of the beating and wrongly said two students had assaulted police on horseback who were controlling the throngs near the College Park campus after the game.

The FBI and state's attorney's office in Prince George's County are investigating police conduct in the incident. Some of the officers in the video had come forward, but others had to be identified as part of the internal affairs investigation.

The video shows the two officers in riot gear rushing John J. McKenna, 21, and pinning him against a wall before at least one repeatedly strikes him. As McKenna crumples to the ground in the video, a third officer is shown hitting McKenna in the legs and torso with a baton. FBI agents and county internal affairs officers met Wednesday and are cooperating in the investigation.

The sergeant's suspension comes a day after Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said officers who witnessed the incident had "a duty" to intervene or at least report the use of force.

The video shot by another student was released Monday by an attorney for McKenna, who originally was charged with felonies for allegedly attacking officers and their mounts. Those charges were dropped without comment just before the video surfaced.

Ellis said the officer who wrote the charging documents "also was not directly at the scene" but had been working as a processing officer writing up accounts provided to him by the officers making arrests. Who provided the account in the charging documents "is part of the investigation," Ellis said.

The documents allege that McKenna and Benjamin C. Donat,19, were running and screaming in the middle of U.S. 1, prompting an unruly crowd to form. Donat is not shown in the video. Charges against Donat, also a University of Maryland student, were dropped Friday. The video does not show McKenna making any aggressive move toward the mounted officers.

In all, 28 students were arrested or cited March 3 after a Maryland basketball victory over Duke, sparking a debate between police and students over how and when to break up groups of revelers.

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