While the death of Michael Brown sparked protests in Ferguson, it was the result of lawsuits and the release of investigative reports that revealed the extent of the police abuses in that town and others.
The same thing is true of Baltimore. Its police department is one of the largest in the country (eighth largest even though the city is the 27th largest) and has a reputation for brutality. It has paid out nearly $6 million in settlements to the public since 2011 for beating up people. The Baltimore Sun looked into the cases that led to the payouts.
On a cold January afternoon, Jerriel Lyles parked his car in front of the P&J Carry Out on East Monument Street and darted inside to buy some food. After paying for a box of chicken, he noticed a big guy in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap.
“What’s up?” the man said to Lyles. Others, also dressed in jeans and hoodies, blocked the door to the street — making Lyles fear that he would be robbed. Instead, the man identified himself a police officer, frisked Lyles and demanded he sit on the greasy floor. Lyles objected.
“The officer hit me so hard it felt like his radio was in his hand,” Lyles testified about the 2009 incident, after suing Detective David Greene. “The blow was so heavy. My eyes swelled up. Blood was dripping down my nose and out my eye.”
The Baltimore detective offered a different version of events in court, saying that Lyles’ injuries might have resulted from poking himself in the face. He also couldn’t say why officers stopped Lyles, who was not charged with any crime.
But jurors didn’t buy the officer’s explanation. They ruled in Lyles’ favor, and the court ultimately ordered the city to pay him $200,000, the statutory limit in Maryland for most lawsuits against a municipality.
Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.
Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones — jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles — head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.
You can read the individual stories of the grandmother, pregnant accountant, church worker, and deacon mentioned above. They are horrifying. Most of the victims were black.
The police usually justify their actions by later charging the victims with obstruction, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assault.. thus necessitating the use of force I have learned to be very skeptical whenever I hear people accused of such things.
What is surprising is why this explosion did not happen sooner.