Maryland cops face trial for beating up students

Maryland State Police
The trial began today for two Maryland police officers accused of assaulting a college student with batons during a basketball game.

­Officers Reginald Baker and James Harrison face first and second-degree assault and police misconduct charges. The beating, which was captured on video, shows the officers striking University of Maryland (UMD) student John J. McKenna with batons during a fight that broke out at a March 3, 2010 basketball game against Duke University.

“I’ll tell you I lost several days sleep over it,” witness and former UMD student Nathan Cole said in court. “I really did. It really really bothered me.

McKenna, now 24, suffered several injuries – including a concussion. He was among 33 people arrested at the university that night, and was charged with disorderly conduct and assault on a police officer. Officers claimed that McKenna had attacked them and sustained his own injuries when he was kicked by one of their horses. But when a video contradicting their statements was released, the charges against the student were dropped.

The video shows McKenna skipping along the sidewalk, a few feet away from the officers on horseback, only to be slammed up against the wall by Baker’s shield. As McKenna falls to the ground, he is repeatedly beaten by the officers’ batons.

Now the police are being forced to defend themselves at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. During the opening statements Monday, the officers’ lawyers argued that their clients’ actions were legal. The prosecution argued that the officers abused their authority and used unreasonable force.

“Did you hear that noise?” prosecutor Joseph Ruddy asked the jury, after loudly slamming his palm against a railing in the courtroom. “That was a baton striking John McKenna over and over and over again.”

Throughout his opening statement, Ruddy emphasized the officers’ abuse of power against students celebrating a basketball game.

“They abused that power, broke that trust and violated the law,” the prosecutor said.

“They must be held accountable for their actions,” he added.

Cole was the prosecution’s first witness. The former UMD student described the scene of the night of the incident, calling it a non-violent “celebratory gathering” – not a riot or a lawless gathering, as the defense referred to it.

If convicted, the officers face a felony charge of first-degree assault, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.