Attack that blinded city police officer triggers 12-year sentence

Joppa man, 20, yelled racial epithets in attack

November 16, 2010|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

The doctors told Detective Jermaine Cook that the injury to his left eye was like placing a grape in a bag, slicing it in half, and then smashing it flat.

The beer mug slung at his face by a Joppa man in May had caused irreparable damage. Cook, a Baltimore police officer who patrolled the toughest parts of the city, is now legally blind and can't drive long distances or at night. He's had trouble taking care of his children without assistance and has seen his income — which used to include significant overtime pay — drop substantially.

He may never be able to return to work, said his wife Tuesday, reading a letter from Cook to Harford County Circuit Court Judge Stephen M. Waldron as Cook looked at the floor.

Prosecutor Daniel Ryden was even less optimistic about Cook's prognosis.

"The damage to his eye was nothing short of catastrophic," Ryden said. "He will never work as a police officer again."

Across the second-floor ceremonial courtroom sat James Kimble, a 20-year-old who was convicted over the summer in the attack. Kimble and his friends were mourning the death of a friend that May night, and doing so with copious amounts of alcohol.

Cook was off duty and returning home when he drove around a corner and nearly hit Kimble, sparking an argument. As Cook spoke to a 911 officer, someone — police say Kimble — could be heard yelling racial epithets.

Kimble had a juvenile arrest record, and had received probation for a disorderly conduct charge a few years ago. Ryden described Kimble as "boorish," someone whose behavior could not be tolerated. Though sentencing guidelines called for five to 10 years in prison, he asked Waldron to impose the maximum: 25 years.

Friends and family who filled the courtroom benches described the incident as a freak outcome of a poor decision, one that shouldn't overshadow Kimble's positive qualities and derail his future.

He helped the elderly. He cut neighbors' front lawns for free. His juvenile arrests? Those were for fights he got into after standing up for a special needs student who was being bullied, and a girl who was being hit by her boyfriend, his mother told Waldron.

Defense attorney David P. Henninger likened what happened that night to the actions of a drunk driver, whose behavior he said is reckless but typically without consequence.

"All I hear about James is that he's a decent young person," Henninger said. "People just plain like him."

Kimble's stepfather, Michael Sullivan, said equating his actions to those of a drunk driver wasn't quite fair. Kimble wasn't on the highway, or even at a bar. He was at his own home, with friends. And Kimble was devastated by what he had done, Sullivan said.

Kimble is not a hardened criminal, but that's how he would emerge from the state prison system if he were to serve a significant period of time, Sullivan said. Supporters asked for a long probation, or placement in a youthful offender program where he could learn a trade and pay restitution to Cook.

Kimble then stood up, his voice wavering. "I'm not that kind of person," he told Waldron, before turning to Cook. "I really apologize, Mr. Cook. I didn't mean to do it."

He may be nice to his family and friends, the prosecutor countered, but he was vicious that night, repeatedly referring to Cook with a racial slur and boasting of what he had done.

"I hope his eyeball's falling out," Kimble said, according to a transcript of an interview he gave with Harford sheriff's deputies two hours after his arrest. "[Expletive] didn't know what hit him. He thought he was the hard one."

Ryden said his words showed "he absolutely intended to cause that damage,"

Waldron ordered a recess to contemplate his decision.

In 22 years as a judge, he said, the case was one of the more difficult to come across his bench.

In handing down a sentence of 25 years in prison, all but 12 of which were suspended, Waldron said Kimble wasn't the terror that prosecutors described, but his decisions were "ridiculous" and "intolerable in our society." He drew specific attention to the racist words shouted by Kimble and his friends.

"Don't pass yourselves off as kind-hearted people," Waldron scolded them. "Kind-hearted people don't even consider those types of words and thoughts."

Before concluding, Waldron had a broader lament.

"I'm glad I grew up when I did," he said. "I don't know when we morphed into an intolerant, unforgiving society … where payback for any perceived provocation is grounds for an assault."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com



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