Off-duty Baltimore officer could lose sight in eye after racially tinged attack in Harford County

Joppa man, 20, charged with hate crime after allegedly swinging beer mug at officer's face

May 06, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A Baltimore police officer could lose sight in an eye after being hit with a beer mug during an off-duty altercation near his Joppa home, an incident the Harford County sheriff's office is calling a hate crime.

Detective Jermaine Cook was struck in the face after, police say, a man approached Cook's car at a stop sign early Thursday, and yelled at him about his driving. Sheriff's deputies who arrived at the scene said the officer, who is black, had a large cut near his left eye and was bleeding profusely, said Monica Worrell, a spokeswoman for the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

James Aaron Kimble, 20, was arrested at the scene and faces assault and hate crime charges. He was being held on $1 million bail at the Harford County Detention Center, pending a bail review hearing today.

Cook called 911 after the 2:20 a.m. attack, which occurred as he drove home from work. Worrell said a man can be heard on a recording of the call yelling racial epithets and threatening to "hang him." When police arrived, Kimble, who is white, appeared intoxicated and repeatedly referred to the city officer by a racial slur, Worrell said.

The president of the city police union called the incident "horrific," and Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III expressed outrage.

Cook underwent surgery at Johns Hopkins' Wilmer Eye Institute for damage to his eye socket, and doctors told police that his eye might not function properly again. "We're hopeful he'll have a good prognosis, but there's concern that he will have some sort of vision issues," said city police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Kimble's family disputed the sheriff's office's version of events. Michael Sullivan, who said he is Kimble's stepfather, said Cook drove through a stop sign and nearly hit Kimble, sparking an argument. He said Cook pulled out a knife and a shoving match ensued, leading Kimble to swing a beer bottle — not a mug — at the officer.

"Just because this gentleman is a police officer doesn't change the fact that this was a two-way altercation." Sullivan said.

"It's two guys arguing about who's right and wrong, one loudmouth yelling at another loudmouth. And because the guy's black, that makes it a hate crime? That's ridiculous."

Harford police said Kimble was part of a large group drinking after the a wake of a Maryland National Guard solider who died last month in what police said was a high-speed motorcycle accident.

Harford police said Kimble began yelling at Cook about speeding on the residential street near Aberdeen Proving Ground, and Cook exited his car in an apparent effort to calm the man down, identifying himself as a Baltimore police officer.

"For a lot of our men and women, the job doesn't end when you punch the clock," said Robert F. Cherry, head of the city police union. "We expect things to happen while we're working the streets of Baltimore, but not when you're heading home to your family."

In a statement, Rawlings-Blake said there was "simply no place in our society for any violence, particularly racially motivated violence."

Kimble had fled into a nearby wooded area when Harford police arrived, authorities said. Neighbors told police that Kimble claimed he had been stabbed by the officer, but his injuries to his hand were consistent with being cut by glass, police said. Police did not find the knife that Kimble claimed the officer had brandished, Worrell said.

Kimble's cousin, Albert R. Glasscock, 27, was also arrested for refusing to follow the orders of deputies. Police said Glasscock fought back when they told him he was being placed under arrest while they reviewed the assault, causing minor injuries to a deputy.

Sullivan, Kimble's stepfather, said Glasscock was trying to tell deputies his version of events but was thrown on the ground and repeatedly kicked. When additional deputies arrived, Sullivan said he told them that Glasscock had been assaulted by the officers. "They said, 'That never happened,'" Sullivan said. "Well, I saw it happen."

Worrell said Kimble and others had consumed alcohol after a wake for Karl Michael Kunze, 20, of Edgewood, who was killed in a motorcycle accident on April 23 in Joppa. Police said Kunze was passing vehicles in a no-passing zone when he struck the driver's side door of a Toyota Corolla and was thrown from his motorcycle, striking a tree.

Kunze, a New York native, was named 2009 soldier of the year for the Maryland Army National Guard.

Court records show Kimble pleaded guilty to a 2008 disorderly conduct charge in Ocean City and received probation before judgment. He also pleaded guilty to a traffic charge in Harford County — for driving 25 mph over the speed limit.

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