Black prin­ci­pal: White cop was ver­bally abu­sive

Bal­ti­more County po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing the claim

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Liz Bowie

Bal­ti­more County po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a claim that a white county po­lice of­fi­cer in­sulted and de­meaned an African Amer­i­can city school prin­ci­pal dur­ing an en­counter last month in Owings Mills.

Vance Ben­ton, who has been prin­ci­pal of Pat­ter­son High School in East Bal­ti­more for eight years, wrote a let­ter to county of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing County Ex­ec­u­tive Johnny Ol­szewski and the county’s new po­lice chief, Melissa R. Hy­att, telling them that he had never ex­pe­ri­enced such “degra­da­tion, dis­re­spect and hu­mil­i­a­tion.”

Ben­ton said he was a by­stander who watched an ar­rest a block from his house and was not in­volved in the crime that po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing when the of­fi­cer con­fronted him.

“The lives of in­no­cent cit­i­zens, es­pe­cially those that are African Amer­i­can, are in jeop­ardy if (the of­fi­cer’s) in­nate

racial bi­ases and his be­lit­tling ac­tions to ‘bait’ cit­i­zens into be­ing ar­rested aren’t an­a­lyzed and ad­dressed im­me­di­ately,” Ben­ton wrote in the let­ter.

The county po­lice depart­ment con­firmed the mat­ter was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and de­nied a request by The Bal­ti­more Sun for the of­fi­cer’s body cam­era footage, cit­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“We take all matters brought to our at­ten­tion se­ri­ously and the agency is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the mat­ter,” Hy­att said in a state­ment through her pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer.

T. J. Smith, a spokesman for Ol­szewski, said the county ex­ec­u­tive is seek­ing more in­for­ma­tion about the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“While we don’t know the spe­cific cir­cum­stances around this sit­u­a­tion, we take com­plaints like this se­ri­ously,” Smith said in an email. “No one should ever be mis­treated by the po­lice or any other county em­ployee.”

In an in­ter­view, Ben­ton de­tailed the ex­pe­ri­ence he had July 29. On the way to pick up his teenage son from swim prac­tice, he said he saw two young peo­ple who ap­peared to be a boyfriend and girl­friend hav­ing a dis­agree­ment on the side of the road.

Re­turn­ing with his son, he saw the young African Amer­i­can man hand­cuffed and sit­ting on the curb. The man’s shirt was torn, he said.

He and his son parked the car at home and walked back to the scene. Ben­ton said he wanted to make sure the young man was “han­dled properly by po­lice,” but also thought he could teach his 15-year-old son lessons about how to stay out of trou­ble.

Ben­ton said he stood about 20 yards from the ar­rest, but a fe­male of­fi­cer came up and asked him to leave. Ben­ton re­sponded that he be­lieved he was al­lowed to stand on the side­walk where he was if he wasn’t in­ter­fer­ing with the po­lice. An­other of­fi­cer who ap­peared to be in charge waved at him and said he was fine to stay where he was.

A third of­fi­cer, who was white, ap­proached him and, Ben­ton said, “ranted” about how peo­ple try to hin­der in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Ben­ton said he be­gan talk­ing to his son, and when he turned back to face the of­fi­cer, the of­fi­cer shouted: “Don’t you buck up at me.”

Ben­ton said he told his son he be­lieved that the of­fi­cer was imag­in­ing be­hav­ior that hadn’t hap­pened, and that his view was racist.

“Did you see me buck up or even raise my voice?” Ben­ton said he asked his son. “I told him that’s how black boys and men get killed by the po­lice when po­lice choose to see things that are not there.”

The of­fi­cer then shone his flash­light in Ben­ton’s face, say­ing he wanted to get a good look at Ben­ton. Ben­ton asked for the of­fi­cer’s name and tried to read the of­fi­cer’s name tag through the glare in his eyes.

The of­fi­cer asked, “Can you even read?” and pro­ceeded to spell his name in an ex­ag­ger­ated way, Ben­ton said. Ben­ton then said the of­fi­cer asked his son, if he lis­tened to his fa­ther’s ad­vice and when he said that he did, the of­fi­cer re­sponded, “I guess I will be see­ing you again.”

Ben­ton said his son, Taj Ben­ton, is a good stu­dent at Bal­ti­more City Col­lege and a na­tion­ally ranked swim­mer.

Ben­ton said he be­lieved the of­fi­cer was im­ply­ing his son would get in trou­ble and the po­lice would be called.

“He saw me as the ‘n-word’ and not as a black man with his son. He saw me as an­other op­por­tu­nity to de­grade some­one and he rel­ished that op­por­tu­nity to do it in front of my son,” Ben­ton said. Ben­ton said he be­lieved the of­fi­cer wanted to bait him so that he could ar­rest him, but in­stead Ben­ton walked away, say­ing good night.

While Ben­ton gave The Sun the of­fi­cer’s last name, The Sun is not us­ing it be­cause the county po­lice depart­ment said it has a pol­icy of not pro­vid­ing the first name of of­fi­cers and the of­fi­cer’s last name matches sev­eral other of­fi­cers.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Pat­ter­son High School Prin­ci­pal Vance Ben­ton speaks with a stu­dent in the hall­way.

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