Sometimes, Video Doesn’t Matter

The allegations against University of Maryland student John McKenna would likely have stuck, but for the fact that it was caught on video.  It was infamous at the time, a happy college kid skipping down the  sidewalk after beating Duke in basketball in 2010.  Then beaten.

It was bad enough that he was beaten. It was worse that they lied about why. Worse still that the cops who could be identified, Reginald Baker and James J. Harrison, refused to give up the names of other cops in riot gear who were also doing the beating.  But that’s before it ended up in court, with Baker and Harrison as defendants instead of McKenna.

The upshot was that Harrison was convicted of misdemeanor assault.  Not much of an outcome, but something.  Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, as it’s now gone.

IN PRINCE George’s County, it is now clear that the police, without provocation, can beat an unarmed young student senseless — with impunity. They can blatantly lie about it — with impunity. They can stonewall and cover it up for months — with impunity. They can express no remorse and offer no apology — with impunity.

The agent of this travesty of justice, and this impunity, is Judge Beverly J. Woodard of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court.

In language that offers no detail, the Washington Post states that Judge Woodard “has now thrown the verdict out and closed the case.”  What exactly that means, what was the basis for the action, is unexplained.  Maybe that’s because no one knows?

The judge offered no explanation for her actions, and no wonder. What possible explanation could there be for exonerating Mr. Harrison?

A good question, but one that a newspaper like the Washington Post would be expected to answer.  Empty rhetorical question are for kids; judges don’t get to do as they please, even though they may not express their reasoning openly. Either there is authority for their ruling or not. If so, what would it be? If not, then will the prosecution appeal? Instead, the WaPo offers a lame excuse for information that would get a frosh a D minus.

In Maryland, judges sometimes toss out convictions for first-time offenders in minor cases. This is another matter — a clear case of egregious police brutality. Mr. Harrison, who was allowed to retire from the department with a full pension, may now work again as a police officer if he wishes.

Most states have an escape hatch, a means by which first offenders get a second chance despite the fact that they committed the crime.  In New York, it’s called an “adjournment in contemplation of dismissal,” which appears to be similar to what happened here:

Judge Beverly Woodard’s decision means that as long as Harrison, who has retired from the force, keeps a clean criminal record, the case will be expunged from his files in 2017 as if he had never been found guilty of assault.

Except, this doesn’t happen after trial, after conviction, after sentence.  And yes, the 30 days home detention and 18 months of probation was his sentence, before the judge decided to toss his conviction.  When she imposed this sentence in 2012, it came with Judge Woodard’s flavor of moral righteousness:

On Friday, Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Beverly Woodard tried to deliver justice for both men. She criticized Maryland students for the raucous celebration after a basketball game that led to John McKenna’s videotaped beating, but she turned her ire on Officer James Harrison, who struck the young man with a baton after he skipped toward a police line in March 2010. “You had a higher standard, Mr. Harrison,” the judge said.

Justice for both men?  Exactly what “justice” was due Harrison for his vicious beating of McKenna, his lying about it, his concealing the identities of other officers who similarly beat McKenna?  Maryland students engaged in the raucous celebration of skipping?  But WaPo, back then, went out of its way to explain how sad and harsh this was at the close of an officer’s “decorated career.”

The retired Prince George’s County police officer, his decorated career in law enforcement forever besmirched by a second-degree assault conviction, discussed his struggles to explain the concept of justice to his eight children.

How sad that daddy had to explain the “concept” to his eight kids.  How much better that he didn’t have to visit his eight kids in the hospital after they were beaten by a cop like their daddy for skipping on the sidewalk.

But as it turns out, the WaPo was wrong, very wrong, in its characterization of the sad tears for poor Officer Harrison.  They wrote, “forever besmirched,” but in Judge Woodard’s courtroom, “forever” apparently means two years.  And then, poof, it’s gone.

Among the many benefits of pervasive video is that the lies that controlled the criminal justice system, that cops would never beat people for no reason, because why would they do that?, are finally revealed as lies.  The years of presenting allegations and argument to judges that the bruise on a defendant’s face in the precise shape of a Glock did not occur when the defendant inexplicably threw himself to the pavement at the mere sight of approaching police, to no avail, are over.  Now, there’s proof. Now, judges will realize that it not only happens, but happens with unfortunate regularity.  Now, judges will believe the defense.

But not in King Prince George’s County, Maryland. Not in Judge Woodard’s courtroom. Not even when there’s video.  As the new WaPo editorial states, “it is now clear that the police” can do harm of all manner “with impunity,” even when it’s caught on video.


14 thoughts on “Sometimes, Video Doesn’t Matter

  1. ExCop-LawStudent

    So get the USA to file on Harrison for 18 USC 242. The statute of limitations is 7 years, and there is not a state conviction to bar prosecution under DOJ policy, thanks to Judge Woodard.

    I realize that this is not likely to happen, but that’s the easy solution and could have the effect of stopping such BS by state judges.

    1. SHG Post author

      Aside from the “get the USA to file,” as if one just snaps one’s fingers, this will have the opposite effect. State judges don’t want to be embroiled with the police (or their unions). It makes for very unpleasant relations. This would merely enable them to punt and shift the responsibility to the feds, which would make for very happy state judges.

      If you want to have an impact on how state judges handle such matters, I would think naming and shaming would be far more effective. And that’s what I’ve done.

          1. ExCop-LawStudent

            I will defer to your experience.

            On a base level, this infuriates me, as it goes against what officers are supposed to represent. It tarnishes all officers and should not be tolerated, and the officers involved have, in a Kantian way, earned much more than 30 days house arrest (which later “disappears”).

            1. SHG Post author

              There are levels of infuriating here. From the beating, to the lies, to the concealment of the other beating cops. And for me, to the judge. Actually, infuriating fails to capture this for me.

  2. Bartleby the Scrivener

    Let me see if I understand this correctly. In Prince George’s County, MD, the police can beat you, lie about what happened, charge you with a crime for their having beaten you, interfere with a lawful investigation, and possibly commit perjury, and the judges will be complicit with it and throw the case out, because they’re cops and cops don’t lie? This is in spite of video evidence contradicting what the cops said?

    I find it to be exceptionally disturbing that the police force was similarly complicit with this as a matter of policy, since the force as a whole stonewalled on this as well! Why didn’t they require that he identify the other people there? Why didn’t the force itself identify which officers were deployed to the event at the time of the beating? Why didn’t the force require that all officers present identify themselves and if no identification was forthcoming, that people be fired for such?

    I’d love to find a way to make this into a RICO prosecution, since the judiciary and police in Prince George’s county are clearly conspiring to deny the citizens of the USA their rights. I think 20-40 years for each person involved in the beating, the cover-up, the lies, and the abuse of judicial discretion should be enough time to think about this.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      > This is in spite of video evidence contradicting what the cops said?

      Yeah, that’s inconvenient, but if we follow Europe’s lead with the right to be forgotten, that won’t be a problem any more.

  3. Paul The Cab Driver

    One of the big problems with this type of behavior on the part of the judge and the cops is that eventually the “mundanes” get sick and tired of it. then one day, some cop pulls something like this and something like the Ferguson protests happen. Now, how long do you think it will take for people to see Bundy Ranch–cops backed down when protesters were armed. Ferguson MO–cops used tear gas and riot batons on unarmed protesters. And then start showing up at these protests armed to the gills?
    If real court-room justice does not prevail, then the population eventually ensures that rough street justice will occur. It happened in France in the Revolution. It happened in Russia in their revolution… It has happened hundreds of times to dozens of regimes.
    Americans delude themselves and think of themselves as an exceptional country, when in fact we are a bunch of human being who behave like human beings. If this crap continues, I fear it will get very messy indeed.
    And by the way, I would not be too hasty to welcome a revolution of any sort. Revolutions are extremely dangerous and violent events, and 99 times out of 100 result in a worse situation when the smoke all clears. France traded Louis for Napoleon…. Russia traded Nicholas for Lenin….

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m in a benevolent mood today, and so this example of tin-foil philosophy sees daylight, though mostly because of the good point you make at the end. The alternative to bad isn’t always good. Sometimes, it’s worse.

  4. BobN

    Grew up in the DC area (Montgomery county) in the 60s and 70s. Prince Georges County police were well-known as thugs back then so it doesn’t surprise me at all they still are and that the judiciary still goes along with it. Sadly, I really don’t know how this problem can be fixed.

    1. Frank

      That reputation remained into the 1980’s. I recall a pursuit that started 70 miles south of DC on the Virginia side ended in the middle of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge as the driver realized he was about to enter Prince George’s County, and said as much to the arresting officers.

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