Video: Baltimore cop suspended after fighting suspect

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts on Tuesday suspended an officer caught on tape fighting with a suspect

By Ian Duncan and Mark Puente
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts on Tuesday suspended the officer caught on tape beating a suspect, while local leaders asked why it took the department more than two months to pull him off the streets.

A police surveillance camera operator flagged the footage of the incident on North Avenue on the night in June that it happened, and prosecutors and detectives from internal affairs were aware of it.

But Batts said he didn't see it until Monday, the day it was made public to bolster a lawsuit Kollin Truss filed against Officer Vincent E. Cosom.

"Much like the public I was shocked, I'm outraged, I'm disgusted by what I saw," Batts told reporters. "Nothing that I saw on that video is defensible ... it's unacceptable and will not be tolerated within this organization."

The video footage appears to show Cosom launching an unprovoked attack on Truss at a bus stop on North Avenue. Cosom lands a series of blows on Truss, some while Truss is restrained by another officer.

Batts said his two years on the job has not been enough to rid the department of rogue officers, and he needs more time to remove the "bad apples."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and others have called for swift action against Cosom.

"I am deeply disgusted by the images I saw in this video," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. Cosom's "conduct was shameful and not worthy of the sworn obligation every officer takes to serve and protect city residents."

Cosom will continue to collect his paycheck while on leave. His base salary is $61,000; with overtime, he earned $69,000 last year.

Internal affairs has been investigating the incident, but Batts said the department has been sluggish in its handling of the case. He said the alert from prosecutors reached a middle manager who should have done more to inform senior department officials.

"This officer should have been removed from the field immediately," Batts said. "I should have been notified immediately."

As a result, Batts said, he is asking prosecutors to report allegations of police misconduct directly to the chief of internal affairs.

Union leader Gene Ryan said the incident should be investigated. But he suggested that Cosom's guilt might not be so clear.

"It's been my experience that videos don't tell the whole story," said Ryan, vice president of the department's Fraternal Order of Police lodge.

Deputy State's Attorney Elizabeth Embry confirmed that there is a criminal investigation but declined to comment further. Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said investigators are marshaling evidence with the aim of presenting a case to the grand jury.

"It appears we in Internal Affairs moved quickly to conduct the investigation," Rodriguez said.

But Truss' attorney, Ivan J. Bates, questioned how seriously investigators pursued the case. Bates said his client was not contacted by prosecutors or police to arrange an interview until Monday.

"Because of the grand jury process, interviews are going to be conducted in a different manner," said police Lt. Eric Kowalczyk.

Truss' girlfriend, who was with him during the incident, said she had not given a statement, either.

By that point, the incident was three months old.

Truss and girlfriend Stephanie Coleman were on East North Avenue on June 15 when they came into contact with Cosom.

Cosom wrote in a police report that he ordered Truss to leave the area, but Truss refused and headed into a liquor store.

Truss exited the store and met again with Cosom. The video shows Coleman trying to get between the two men.

Coleman said Tuesday she was worried that things would get out of control and was trying to intervene.

"I knew once he was harassing us, it was going to end in a big incident," Coleman said. "I was scared of [Cosom]."

Coleman can be seen guiding Truss across Greenmount Avenue, away from Cosom and two other officers, but the police follow the couple.

Cosom wrote in charging papers that Truss then assaulted Coleman.

On Tuesday, Coleman denied that Truss assaulted her.

"He lied," Coleman said.

Cosom wrote that Truss dropped into a fighting stance and made threats. The video shows Cosom dart around a group of bystanders to launch into an attack on Truss.

Cosom lands a series of blows on Truss, including several delivered while another officer restrains Truss against the side of a bus shelter.

Police charged Truss with assault and other offenses, but a prosecutor reviewed the tape, concluded that it contradicted Cosom's account and dropped the case.

The prosecutor also notified the police integrity unit of the state's attorney's office, office spokesman Tony Savage said.

Police have not released the names of the officer who restrained Truss and another officer who was present. Rodriguez said their actions would also be weighed.

"Anyone that either acted with malice or anyone that after seeing misconduct or malice failed to take action will also be held accountable," he said.

Bates, Truss' lawyer, credited a public defender with obtaining a copy of the surveillance video. Bates released the video to reporters on Monday.

"But for the public defender's office doing their great job, we wouldn't be watching the video today," he said.

Local leaders said they were shocked by the tape.

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, a city pastor who has railed against police brutality, said he first thought the incident must have happened somewhere else.

"It's one thing to hear about it," said Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Madison Park. "It's another thing to see it."

Bryant recently hosted a forum following the police shooting last month in Ferguson, Mo., to consider relations between black people and law enforcement.

City Councilman Carl Stokes joined Bryant in asking why the officer was still working on Monday.

The councilman said the punches "looked unprovoked." Based on the video, he said, he did not believe the officer was threatened.

"It seems apparent that the officer wrote a dishonest report," Stokes said. "The citizen wasn't in a fighting position.

"The more proper thing would have been for the second officer to get between his colleague and this citizen, and say, 'Stop this. Don't do this. This is not what we do, no matter how angry we are.'"

Batts said the Police Department is looking into outfitting officers with body-mounted cameras that would record interactions with the public from the officer's perspective.

In a study released this week, researchers from the Justice Department and the Police Executive Research Forum found the cameras improved interactions between police and the public. The Obama administration this week underscored its support for the technology.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young is a frequent critic of city payouts to settle complaints of police misconduct. But in Truss' case, he said, said the city should not waste taxpayer money fighting the lawsuit.

"From what I've seen, we should just pay the guy," said Young.

Copyright 2014 The Baltimore Sun

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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