UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) – A jury late Friday found one of two police officers charged in the alleged beating of a University of Maryland student in 2010 guilty of second-degree assault, but cleared the second officer in the incident.
Prince George’s County police Cpl. James Harrison was found guilty of the assault charge, according to county police. But jurors cleared Harrison of misconduct, and found Cpl. Reginald Baker not guilty of assault and misconduct, police said.
The two officers were charged with assaulting then-student John McKenna during a rowdy student celebration that followed the Maryland basketball team’s win over Duke in March 2010. The incident was captured on video by another student. A judge had dismissed first-degree assault charges against the officers.
Prosecutors argued that the officers abused their power when they struck McKenna with batons. Defense lawyers said their clients were trying to control a riot.
McKenna told reporters after the verdict that he was glad “some justice has been done today.”
“It’s been a long two years for me and my family,” he said, according to video posted on WRC-TV’s web site (
http://bit.ly/WNbhlC). “But there’s a broader crime committed here and spans way further than two cops charged in this trial, so we hope that the Department of Justice continues their investigation.”
Prince George’s County Chief of Police Mark Magaw respects the “jury’s decision and is committed to ethical and professional policing,” police said in a Tweet.
Magaw told WTOP Radio, “There’s an administrative process within the police department for both (of) these officers, so they both will remain suspended until those administrative proceedings are over.”
Since the incident, he said, policies have been changed and officers have undergone extensive training.
Jurors saw a video of that night’s encounter showing McKenna half-skipping, half-jogging down the sidewalk, his arms raised in celebration. He appears to stop when he comes near officers on horseback. Baker can be seen initially striking McKenna, who suffered a head injury and other wounds. Harrison runs over later and also hits him. The officers left McKenna on the ground, and he was arrested.
Lawyers for both sides cast the encounter in starkly different terms, with prosecutors painting McKenna as an unarmed and hapless victim of police brutality who was arrested despite his evident injuries and who went hours without medical care. Defense lawyers portrayed him as an agitator who ignored police commands to stop and turn around and who was perceived to be a threat as he ran forward with his arms outstretched and his fists clenched.
They said the officers’ conduct was justified in the midst of a “riot” in which other students, apparently determined to shut down Route 1 _ the central north-south thoroughfare that runs through campus _ were climbing up poles, setting fires, tearing down street signs and destroying property.
The lawyers portrayed the officers as reluctant participants in the melee who even rooted against Maryland in hopes of a tamer and more controlled student reaction. They said the decision to deploy the department’s civil disturbance unit, and to have the officers respond with shields and batons, was made not by Baker or Harrison but by their commanders.
Baker and Harrison, both veteran members of the department, were indicted last year following a lengthy investigation that involved FBI interviews with many officers.
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