Bodycam footage shows a bystander being handcuffed and wrestled to the ground after warning two police officers that the ground was wet while they were apprehending another man.
Lee Dotson, 30, was walking down Ashton Street in Baltimore when he spotted the two police officers forcing another man to sit on the wet pavement. “That ground wet, man,” he said.
Sargent Ethan Newberg described Mr Dotson as “combative” in initial reports of the incident. But video footage released on Friday shows Mr Dotson calmly walking away after offering his opinion.
Mr Newberg broke into a run, grabbed Mr Dotson by the arm and tried to take him down before another officer tackled him into the pavement and locked handcuffs around Mr Dotson’s wrists, according to footage from the officer’s body camera.
The video challenged the sequence of events Mr Newberg described in his reports and he has since been arrested.
The incident is among many which Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison says illustrates a “horrible culture” of excessive force.
“That officer is tarnishing the badge that we all wear,” Mr Harrison told the Baltimore Sun.
Mr Newberg said in a following report that Mr Dotson was “combative and aggressive,” forcing the arrest, Mr Harrison said in a news conference on 6 June.
The officers described Mr Dotson as “inciting a hostile crowd while squaring off with them”, the Baltimore Sun reported.
But Mr Harrison removed Mr Newberg from the force after reviewing the videos, describing Mr Dotson as “walking calmly away after offering his opinion”.
Mr 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 criticised the release of the footage before Mr Newberg’s trial, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Mr Newberg made $243,000 last year – more than the mayor, the Baltimore Sun reported. He was suspended without pay.
The rush to arrest Mr Dotson appeared to surprise everyone involved, the video footage shows. The man initially detained and later released stood up to watch and the unnamed officer watching over him rushed to join the scene.
“I’m not running away,” Mr Dotson said, as he looked over his shoulder, the video shows.
“I’m suing y’all,“ he added as he asked bystanders to record the unfolding arrest.
”Y’all are crazy man... I didn’t do nothing to you man, freedom of speech,“ he said, before telling officers his constitutional rights were being violated.
After more officers arrived, Mr Dotson asked why he was being taken to jail.
”Just go to jail and take your charge like a man,“ Mr Newberg called out.
Mr Dotson the asked why he was being arrested again. ”Because you don’t know how to act,“ Newberg said.
When another officer from a separate unit told him to relax, Mr Newburg said: ”Leave my scene. Don’t you ever tell me how to do my job.“
The second officer involved was suspended with pay, Mr 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,“ Mr Harrison said at the news conference. ”This type of behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.“
Mr Harrison described the incident as one among others that have frayed relations between police and the community. Last week, a former Baltimore officer was convicted of assault and misconduct after he beat a man in a 2018 incident.
Less than 24 hours after charges were dropped against Mr Dotson, police pulled him over and said his license plate was ”positioned in an unusual manner“, his window tint was too dark and his car smelled of marijuana, the Baltimore Sun reported.
He was only charged on possession of crack cocaine, the paper said. A spokesperson for the department did not return a request for comment on the timing of the traffic stop occurring soon after charges were filed against Mr Newberg.