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.