“That ground wet, man,” Dotson said on May 30, as he passed the scene and walked away, down Ashton Street in southwestern Baltimore.
Sgt. Ethan Newberg described Dotson as “combative” in initial reports. But video footage released Friday tells a radically different story.
Newberg broke into a run, grabbed Dotson by the arm and tried to take him down before another white officer tackled the passerby to the pavement and locked handcuffs around his wrists, according to footage from the officer’s body camera.
That video challenged the sequence of events Newberg described in his reports, leading to the arrest of the veteran officer in an incident among others that have plagued the department with what Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has called a “horrible culture” of excessive force.
Harrison said on Friday that the “officer is tarnishing the badge that we all wear,” the Baltimore Sun reported.
When Baltimore police Sgt. Ethan Newberg told fellow officers to arrest the Black bystander who criticized their tactics as they detained another man, the 24-year veteran of the department said the pedestrian had been “interfering.”
Newberg said in a report that Dotson was “combative and aggressive,” Harrison said at a June 6 news conference. Documents also show the officers described Dotson as inciting a hostile crowd while squaring off with them, according to the Sun.
Commissioner Harrison removed Newberg from the force after reviewing the videos, describing Dotson as “walking calmly away after offering his opinion.”
Newberg, a 24-year veteran of the force, was charged with second-degree assault, false imprisonment and misconduct. His attorney Joseph Murtha did not return a request for comment but criticized the release of the footage before Newberg’s trial, the Sun reported.
In the footage captured on both officers’ body cameras, Dotson can be seen walking away from police while criticizing their decision to make a suspect sit on a wet sidewalk. Newberg starts to run toward Dotson, who reacts by saying “I’m not running away” and tells the sergeant to get off him.
The second officer then tackles Dotson to the ground, while the man shouts that he was exercising free speech and that the officers were violating his constitutional rights.
When more police officers arrive at the scene, Dotson is brought back to his feet and asks officers why he is being arrested.
“Just go to jail and take your charge like a man,” Newberg says in the footage.
Dotson again asks why he’s being arrested.
“Because you don’t know how to act,” Newberg says.
Police took Dotson to central booking, but prosecutors quickly dropped all charges after reviewing his case.
The footage indicates that the man who had been forced to sit on the pavement had committed no crime but had been stopped on a warrant check. He was released at the scene, police said Friday.
Harrison said Friday that the incident was an example of a “horrible culture” in the Baltimore Police Department, which has faced criticism for some officers’ behavior toward the public. The commissioner said he was cautious but interested to know how pervasive that culture may be within the department.
“That officer is tarnishing the badge that we all wear,” Harrison said of Newberg.
“He’s the person in charge of the culture, because he’s the supervisor on the scene,” the commissioner said. “He’s the person who’s supposed to be motivating, coaching, cultivating and developing young subordinates into the right way of policing.”
In another moment captured on camera, a third officer, who Harrison said was a subordinate from a different unit, approaches Newberg and tells the sergeant to relax.
“Leave my scene,” Newberg says. “Don’t you ever tell me how to do my job.”
Harrison announced the charges against Newberg on June 10, while also saying that all charges against Dotson were dropped.
The second officer involved was suspended with pay, Harrison said, and the other man involved was stopped on a warrant check and later released.
“From what I saw, the man did nothing to provoke Sergeant Newberg, whose actions were not just wrong but deeply disturbing and illegal,” Harrison said at the news conference. “This type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
COPS TARGETING BLACK MAN NOW IN RETALIATION. Less than 24 hours after charges were dropped against Dotson, police pulled him over and said his license plate was “positioned in an unusual manner,” speculated his window tint was too dark and smelled marijuana and searched his car. Police said they did find seven grams of crack cocaine on him and 172 individual packages of the drug, and charged him with drug possession.
Newberg’s arrest marks the first test to Harrison’s new policy for arrests captured by police body cameras, which allows him a week to decide whether to publicly release footage.
Although the department hasn’t had a formal policy for years, previous commissioners have consistently opted to release video footage after police-involved shootings or major incidents, often within days of the incident. Harrison will now seek input from federal and local prosecutors, and the Baltimore Office of Civil Rights when deciding whether to release footage publicly, he said.
Harrison described the incident as one among others that have frayed relations between police and citizens. Last week, a former Baltimore officer was convicted of assault and misconduct after he beat a man in a 2018 incident.