Teen says he wasn't beaten, choked by officers accused of kidnapping

Defense attorneys press accuser about inconsistencies in statements

April 25, 2011|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A West Baltimore teenager who says three city police officers kidnapped him and dumped him in a Howard County park with no shoes or cellphone testified that he lied about being beaten up, and denied telling an attorney that he was choked by the officers.

The admission came Monday, on the fourth day of testimony in the kidnapping and misconduct trial of Officers Tyrone S. Francis, Gregory Hellen and Milton G. Smith III, who are accused of leaving Michael B. Johnson Jr. in Patapsco Valley State Park on May 4, 2009, after dropping off his friend, Shawnquin Woodland, in East Baltimore earlier the same day.

When Johnson called 911 from Howard County, he told the dispatcher he had been beaten up, which he testified on Monday was untrue, except for a tap of a nightstick. He also disputed a claim made in a $100 million lawsuit filed by his own civil attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, that Smith put his hands around Johnson's neck and choked him.

"No, no sir," Johnson said when asked by defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell if the lawsuit claim was accurate.

In the aftermath of the alleged incident, Johnson spoke to friends, internal affairs detectives, the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People and Pettit. On Monday, he grew frustrated as Ravenell pressed him about inconsistencies in those statements, pounding his fist, tilting his chair backward and interrupting Ravenell's questions.

"I was there, you weren't there," said Johnson, who has braces and was wearing what appeared to be a school uniform. "I have no reason to lie."

Ravenell also let the jury hold the flip phone that Johnson said the officers snapped into two pieces. It appeared intact. "It was broke" when internal affairs officers seized it as evidence, Johnson said.

The case is the first tried by new State's Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein, and the first few days of testimony have produced lengthy, frequent bench conferences.

The officers are being tried jointly, and each has his own defense attorney. Two of the officers will have their fates decided by a jury, while the third asked for a bench trial. The defense attorneys warned early in the proceedings that the arrangement was fraught with legal pitfalls and will lead to a mistrial.

At least one of the officers, Tyrone Francis, is expected to testify in his own defense. In opening statements, defense attorneys claimed that the teens were providing confidential information to the officers and were dropped off in remote locations for their own safety. They say the teens concocted the abduction story to cover their tracks.

Johnson testified Monday that the plainclothes officers ordered him over to their van and made him get inside. He claimed he had never seen the officers before, and there was no conversation besides idle chat before he was pushed out of the van in Howard County.

"So they drove you, for an hour or two, to go 10 miles, and said nothing the entire time?" Ravenell asked Johnson, recapping his testimony.

"Correct," Johnson said.

Shakia McCaskill, Johnson's cousin and a former city corrections officer, also testified Monday, saying she witnessed the teen being loaded into a police van and called his cellphone to see if he was OK. She said the phone went straight to voice mail.

Later, McCaskill said she recovered the boy's shoes, which prosecutors say were thrown in front of his house by the officers. She said she saw Johnson sitting outside his house. "He was upset, crying," she testified.



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