An attorney representing the teen punched repeatedly by a Baltimore County Police officer during an altercation Monday in Woodlawn called the officer’s behavior “outrageous.”
The 17-year-old boy, who has not been identified by police, was “subdued” already and no longer posed a threat when the officer delivered blows to his head with a closed fist, said Larry Greenberg, a Baltimore-based civil rights attorney.
“The behavior is outrageous. The policies and procedures of the Baltimore County Police Department allow force in certain occasions. When somebody’s down like that, and subdued, and is not a threat, those strikes should never occur,” Greenberg said in an interview Thursday.
Greenberg, the teen’s attorney, said he is a high school student and Baltimore County resident. The teen suffered a broken tooth and sprained arm in the altercation, Greenberg said.
Asked whether his client was considering civil litigation, Greenberg said the Local Government Tort Claims Act in Maryland requires the state and county be put on notice within one year and “we will comply with that statute.”
“I’ve done civil rights work for a long time,” Greenberg said. “There are policies and procedures in place that deal with situations. When you don’t follow them, people can get hurt.”
Greenberg pointed to one specific point in cellphone video shared on social media, when the officer appears to put his knee and body weight onto the teen’s body while he is restrained on the ground.
Baltimore County Police have said officers were responding Monday afternoon to a report of a physical disturbance involving an armed person. When officers approached the individual who they suspected had a handgun, police say, an officer was assaulted by the 17-year-old boy. A 19-year-old man was separately arrested for a so-called “ghost gun” police said he possessed.
Charging documents for the 19-year-old man describe that, according to police, the 17-year-old didn’t follow orders and “assumed a fighting stance” after he was dragged by his backpack.
Greenberg, however, said the teen was “charged” by a police officer in what the attorney described as “escalation.”
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. called Tuesday for a review of the events leading up to the arrest, the officer’s actions and the body-worn camera footage of officers involved. A spokeswoman for Olszewski said he had seen video circulating on social media and that the county is “committed to full transparency.”
Police policy allows the chief of police to release videos of “critical incidents” within 30 days of the event, which can include high profile incidents that garner public interest or concern.
Greenberg said Thursday he’d be “taking the county up on their offer for full transparency,” adding that he’s requested body-worn camera footage, any use-of-force reports completed by police and witness statements they’ve obtained.
The charging documents identified the officer who punched the teen as Officer Sokoya. A Baltimore County salary database lists a police officer named Olumide Sokoya.
Public records requests by The Baltimore Sun for the body-worn camera footage of officers, Sokoya’s disciplinary file, use-of-force reports connected to Monday’s arrests and the 911 calls prompting a police response were not immediately fulfilled.
Police spokesman Trae Corbin said Thursday that the incident was being investigated by the Professional Standards Bureau’s Internal Affairs Section. He said the department conducts investigations into all use-of-force incidents.
Sokoya and the other officer involved in the arrest remain on “regular duty,” Corbin said, meaning they are performing typical police functions, not assigned to desk duty.
Footage of the Monday incident on social media shows a person on the ground underneath an officer. The officer, later identified as Sokoya, strikes him several times with a closed first while shouting instructions to “Turn around” and “Put your hands behind your back.”
The officer ultimately handcuffs the person, after pulling his arms behind his back, and at one point appears to put his knee on the individual’s upper back.
That video, which was confirmed by the police department as the same incident, does not show the start of the altercation.
Police said this week that the 17-year-old had been arrested, but Greenberg said he was not aware of any criminal charges that had been filed against his client. Corbin declined to comment on whether charges had been filed, citing state law that he said required police records of children to be confidential.
Dave Folderauer, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police lodge that represents Baltimore County officers, urged people “not to rush to judgment.”
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“Police work is often a tough profession,” he said. “Videos that do not show the whole event do not allow you to see all of the actions that led up to this point. I urge people not to rush to judgment without having all of the facts.”
Policies that went into effect July 1, in order to comply with state law changes, mandate Baltimore County police officers may not use force unless it is necessary to prevent the threat of physical injury to someone or to “effectuate a legitimate law enforcement objective.” It states officers must take “reasonable steps” to gain compliance and deescalate without using physical force when circumstances and safety allow. They’re also instructed to use deescalation techniques when it is “safe and practical.”
Officers are required to stop using force when the person is “under the sworn member’s control,” “no longer poses an imminent threat of physical injury or death” or the officer determines force won’t accomplish a law enforcement purpose.
All uses of force require a supervisory review, command-level review and review by internal affairs, with a few exceptions, according to the policies.
A police data dashboard shows that through the end of March, the most recent data available, county police had 47 use-of-force incidents this year. Of those, 47.4% involved officers’ hands or fists. Black people were disproportionately the target of that force, making up 74% of the incidents, despite making up roughly a third of the county.
In 2021, Baltimore County Police had 192 force incidents, according to the dashboard. Of those, 50.4% involved officers’ hands and fists. Black people made up 65% of those targets of force.
The police department’s use-of-force policies were updated in 2020 to require officers to intervene and report incidents of unnecessary or excessive force and to stress the sanctity of life.