Hager­stown ar­rest draws crit­i­cism

Lawyer for 15-year-old girl says po­lice too ag­gres­sive

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - By Kevin Rector The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle. krec­tor@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/rec­tor­sun

The at­tor­ney for a 15-year-old girl who was pep­per-sprayed by Hager­stown po­lice af­ter get­ting into an ac­ci­dent on her bike said Fri­day that po­lice were ex­tremely ag­gres­sive through­out the in­ci­dent and showed no re­gard for the girl’s well-be­ing.

He also sharply crit­i­cized Hager­stown Po­lice Chief Vic­tor Brito for say­ing the of­fi­cers’ ac­tions last week­end were jus­ti­fied.

“Quite frankly, you’ve got three kinds of po­lice chiefs,” at­tor­ney Robin Ficker said. “No. 1, po­lice chiefs who make things hap­pen. No. 2, po­lice chiefs who watch things hap­pen.

“And No. 3, you’ve got po­lice chiefs who don’t know what’s hap­pen­ing, and that’s what we have in Hager­stown.”

The girl was rid­ing her bi­cy­cle Sun­day when she col­lided with a mov­ing car. Ficker said she was knocked un­con­scious for two min­utes and suf­fered a con­cus­sion. The girl has said she fought the of­fi­cers be­cause she was dizzy, con­fused and scared.

Brito said Thurs­day his of­fi­cers ini­tially tried to de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion and used pep­per spray only as a last re­sort. He said they were try­ing to get the girl inside a po­lice cruiser and off to the po­lice sta­tion as a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous crowd be­gan gath­er­ing.

Brito said the girl calmed down at the sta­tion, where she was charged as a ju­ve­nile with as­sault, dis­or­derly con­duct, a traf­fic vi­o­la­tion and mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion.

Po­lice said she was re­spon­si­ble for the ac­ci­dent.

Ficker said the girl, whom nei­ther he nor po­lice have pub­licly iden­ti­fied, was not at fault in the ac­ci­dent, and po­lice never both­ered to ask for her ver­sion of what hap­pened. He said video clearly showed po­lice “ag­gres­sion from the get-go,” which he said is why the video has gone vi­ral on­line.

Brito could not be reached for com­ment Fri­day.

Sher­ri­lyn Ifill, pres­i­dent of the NAACP Le­gal De­fense and Ed­u­ca­tional Fund, said the video shows that all of the of­fi­cers need more train­ing and that the of­fi­cer who pep­per-sprayed the girl is un­fit for duty.

“It’s clear that th­ese po­lice of­fi­cers are ill-equipped to deal with this young woman,” she said. “This is one of the rea­sons why I have talked about the need to train po­lice of­fi­cers more in­tensely to en­gage with young peo­ple or peo­ple with men­tal ill­ness or who are in men­tal dis­tress.

“Whenyou only have a ham­mer and have only been trained on how to use a ham­mer, then ev­ery­thing’s a nail.”

Ifill said she did not know all the de­tails of what hap­pened, but the in­ci­dent could have been han­dled bet­ter. “When you see that, you see some­body who should not be en­gaged in any way with the pub­lic,” she said. “This is not some­one who should be equipped with weapons. That was sadis­tic. He sprayed into that car win­dow as if she was an in­sect, sim­ply to deal with what was for him an an­noy­ance.”

The girl is re­cov­er­ing, Ficker said, but had to be pulled out of school be­cause she was be­ing ha­rassed by peers who had seen the video. Ficker said the girl’s soc­cer coach has placed her on a re­serve list be­cause of her con­cus­sion.

Ficker said the charges that po­lice have rec­om­mended against her should be dis­missed im­me­di­ately. If they aren’t, he said, the girl will go to court, and he will call all of the of­fi­cers in­volved to the wit­ness stand.

“We’ll put th­ese cops on the stand and ques­tion them un­der oath, in case we do want to file a civil suit,” Ficker said.

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