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Credibility issues strike Baltimore police department

Is the testimony of an officer even remotely credible when that officer has numerous sustained complaints for excessive force against him?

Attorneys for more than 20 defendants are trying to get the personnel file of a Baltimore police sergeant based on that very question. They feel that the sergeant’s personnel file would raise significant questions about their clients’ cases.

The sergeant’s personnel file is currently sealed while the judge considers the request, but several incidents have already come to light thanks to a 2013 civil lawsuit. Incidents revealed in that case show a pattern of brutality and dishonesty:

— A charge of excessive force and neglect of duty was sustained after he and two other officers beat a man with their service radios and kicked him into a coma.

— The sergeant and officers lied in a sworn statement, saying their victim fell down a set of stairs — but the incident was caught on surveillance tape.

— The sergeant also beat another man with his service radio until he needed facial sutures.

— He arrested a woman to intimidate her into not making a complaint against him.

— He was sued by a fellow officer after he and four others broke into the officer’s home, raided it and held the officer’s wife at gun point, then planted drugs in the home.

— He was sued again, along with three others, in a race discrimination case for arresting a man twice without cause.

Amazingly enough, attorneys in criminal cases often cannot get access to the information in police personnel files — or can do so under only limited conditions. The prosecution is only required to disclose “credibility” issues, like lying under oath — not other abuses. If the defense does get to view the personnel file, they have to keep the contents secret unless they are allowed to bring something up in court by the judge to attack the officer’s credibility.

Until recently, police officers — while legally no different than any other witness — have enjoyed a certain credibility with jurors, which has lead to many convictions. As of late, with more issues like these coming to light, that credibility is fading.

Many criminal defense attorneys think the skepticism is long overdue. If you’re facing allegations that rest only on an officer’s less-than-truthful testimony, a criminal defense attorney can provide more information on your legal options.

Source: The Baltimore Sun, “Attorneys for 20 defendants seek release of city police officer's personnel file,” Justin Fenton, March 09, 2017

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