Activists call Baltimore police tactics “abusive”

One man shot by police, another maced during jobs protest

janice thompthin

Janice Thompthin says a Baltimore police officer, firing from inside his patrol car last month, shot her disabled son, David Yim.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Activists yesterday condemned what they said was abusive behavior by Baltimore police, pointing to the recent police shooting of a disabled man in West Baltimore and the point-blank macing – captured on the video below – of a man participating in a protest near the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus.

“We’ll be damned if we’re going to allow people to be disrespected this way,” said Rev. Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, president of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Witherspoon, the lead speaker at the March 26 Trayvon Martin rally that drew more than a thousand people to downtown Baltimore, said that the U.S. Justice Department should investigate the incidents, the city should discipline or fire the officers involved and a number of other measures should be taken to rein in excessive use of force by city police, including “a real civilian review board.”

According to the mother of David Yim, police responding to an April 10 call “for medical assistance” arrived ahead of the ambulance and shot her 39-year-old son who is disabled, firing at him from inside their patrol car.

“He wasn’t a threat to them. They should have known that he was disabled from the way he moves,” said a sobbing Janice Thompthin, who said her son has a number of physical disabilities including an arm that is paralyzed.

She added that his physical condition is “stable” following the shooting and that he was transferred, at the family’s request, to a psychiatric hospital following the incident.

No Response from Police

City police have not responded to an email and phone call from The Brew seeking comment this morning on these cases or on the group’s charges.

The news conference, organized by the All People’s Congress and Witherspoon’s Justice 4 Trayvon Martin Committee, attracted a small group of media and residents.

It fell on the same day the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union was giving city police poor marks for failing to comply with the terms of a settlement in a lawsuit over their handling of low-level “quality of life” crimes.

An independent auditor found that 17 percent of reports written by officers did not support a finding of probable cause and that almost 20 percent of the arrests were not properly documented.

The auditor’s report “demonstrates a police department that is not making a good faith or effective effort to correct its wrongdoing,” said David Rocah, staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, in an emailed statement.

The cost to the city of settling citizen lawsuits against the police, covered most recently in The Brew here, has been a longtime subject of concern.

A Jobs Protest Turns Ugly

Another speaker at the news conference described how he was maced and roughed up by police during a March 29 jobs protest that began at the 2100 block of East Oliver Street.

Led by Community Churches United, the demonstration was organized against the East Baltimore Community Development Inc. (EBDI).

The church group has been arguing that EBDI’s massive redevelopment project near  the Johns Hopkins medical campus has failed to deliver promised jobs to neighborhood people. (At a December protest, an EBDI official addressed a crowd of 200 protesters, saying they “work as hard as we can to place as many of you as we can.”)

At the corner of Rutland and Eager streets, the 3/29 action became confrontational. Police say protesters blocked trucks from entering the site.

“They started clearing the street and I guess I didn’t get to the sidewalk fast enough,” Thomas H. Threatt recalled. He said several officers “grabbed me” and after getting him prone on the ground, sprayed mace in his face. “They sprayed it in my face and my eyes,” he said.

Thomas H. Threatt described his Mar. 29 arrest by police at a jobs protest. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Thomas H. Threatt describing his March 29 arrest by Baltimore police at a jobs protest. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The video appears to illustrate his account, showing Threatt trying to protect his face by pressing it to the ground, as five or six officers pin him down, yanking his head up by the hair at one point so they could continue to reach within inches of his face with the mace.

The video also shows officers putting their knees on Threatt’s neck and head.

Threatt, who was arrested along with three other protesters, still faces charges in connection with the incident, including disorderly conduct and inciting a riot, he said.

“They should drop the charges” against Threatt, suspend the major who was present and discipline the other officers involved, Witherspoon said

He said his group will file Civilian Review Board complaints about the Threat’s arrest, as well as Yim’s shooting.

All Peoples Congress and Occupy 4 Jobs organizer Sharon Black said the groups plan a community meeting on June 9 June to ask the public to testify about police abuse, false arrest, racial profiling or other improprieties.

“We do not have any confidence in the police to investigate these abuses internally,” Black said.

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  • Guest

    What about the point at about 1:42 of the video when they have handcuffed Mr. Threatt, placed him into a seated position on the ground, and an officer jams his knee right into Mr. Threatt’s midsection? That video is repulsive. It’s ridiculous that officials in this city seem to all be beyond reproach. How can we ever make Baltimore all that she could be when no official is held accountable?

  • MerkMan

    Mr. Threatt resisted arrest. By not placing his hands behind his back he was actively resisting a lawful order. There is no brutality in the spraying of that person at that time.  The man was actively and consistently trying to frustrate the police in the lawful execution of their duties. The “knee in his midsection” may have been an accident or slip caused by Mr. Threatt’s  struggling or it may have been a coercive method to subdue the restrained but still non-compliant Mr. Threatt. Had he placed his hands behind his back when asked to do so non of the subsequent actions would have been necessary, Mr. Threatt resisted lawful arrest and was properly brought into lawful compliance. No Foul here IMHO.

  • David Kennedy

    I realize policing is a very difficult job, not for the faint of heart.  But that argues for only hiring the best possible officers, to be supervised by only the very best upper ranks.

    Why does such brutality happen?  It’s not only because the police are “poorly trained”.  It’s also because they are poorly supervised.Yeah, yeah, I know.  “We did not see the entire incident, start to finish”.  But that has become a story to excuse abusive tactics by the rank & file.  
    There is no way the macing of a man’s face, after he is on the ground, and surrounded, and knee-pinned, can ever be justified.  The man was subdued, and that apparently was not enough.  Nope, they had to lift his head off the ground, shake the can repeatedly to get the most of the police budget, I suppose, and spray him while prone.
    I think I know why there is no comment at this time.  The story has to be composed, rehearsed, and nailed down pat before they go public.
    If Major Bealefeld [spelling] has any desire to retain this citizen’s approval, he had better come completely clean, and fast.
    Heads, both down & UP the line need to roll.  As in be fired.  This type of incident, and by that I mean the police brutalizing any subdued citizen, should never be allowed to happen, and if it does, Immediate Steps Must Be Taken Now, to at the very least ensure, that the “officers” involved are terminated NOW.

  • Unellu

    You are nuts.  Resisting arrest?  What was the man’s crime–protesting?  All this is about muzzling the public outcries about social injustice and blatant inequities.  We have a right to protest without the police being in our faces, without their knees in our flesh, without their dogs baying at us, without their pepper canisters ejecting a blinding spray into our mouths and our eyes.  It is as if the police are the obverse of criminals.  They have this pent up furor and this excessive anxiety.  Once they imagine their authority has been violated, they are on a roll.  There is no stopping the cascade of violence.  It has to play out from start to culmination, like a violent saga.  It assumes a life of its own.  The police fall on a victim, he gets scared and tries to escape their clasp, they get worked up and try to restrain him even more brutally than at the beginning of the episode–in this the police forget humane behavior toward a fellow human being.  Disgusting.  No excuse for it.  Difficult job–blah, blah.  If these guys were more effective at stopping crimes or solving crimes I’d agree.  Total savagery.  We are becoming a police state and the cops are uncontrollable. 

    • MerkMan

      Failure to obey a lawful order to leave the street is reason enough to Enforce The Law. If you choose to disobey these are the consequences. Actions have consequences, Mr Threatt chose to be confrontational and uncoperative, so he gets the sharp end of a baton, mace or physical force. People that Disobey Lawfull Orders invite the authorities to excersise its power. Obey the cops and argue in court if you believe your rights have been abridged. When people disrespect authority, authority will allways excercise its power. Any stupid fool knows that.

      • Wickerman0

        MerkMan sounds like Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke.

        “What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it… well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men”

      • Barnadine the Pirate

        Merkman tells us:  “You must respect mah authoritah!” Tell me what you think constitutes a “lawful order to leave the street.” Tell me why you think that the police get to pick and choose who can or can’t be on a particular patch of sidewalk at any given time. “Loitering”? “Disturbing the peace”? Some other bit of made-up contempt-of-cop BS? This was not citing someone for loitering, this was pinning him on the ground, pulling his face up by the hair, and macing him. This was classic cop abuse of authority.

        • MerkMan

          Bernadine, the police DO get to pick and choose who can or can’t.  That’s what they get paid for and we, as voting citizens invest in them the authority and obligation to maintain the peace and order of our streets. They have the authority to direct traffic, issue citations and arrest at their discretion after having been trained in the execution of their duties. Like it or not, that is the only reason to have police, to enforce the law as they see it, in the moment, and for the benefit of ALL the citizens.
          “Anthony Guglielmi, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said the protesters locked arms and refused to allow trucks to enter a construction site at the intersection of Rutland Avenue and Eager Street.  ” 
          This protest was not peaceful, it obstructed lawful commerce and by doing so VIOLATED THE LAW.  When they refused to “Move to a safer location” and allow the people who work at that location to go about their business they Failed To Obey a Lawful Order Of The Police.
          How would you have restored order to that location? Held a prayer vigil? Use fire hoses to clear the street? Fire tear gas into the crowd? Set dogs loose on them to scatter the protesters? Workers were forcibly denied access to their JOBS, by people seeking JOBS, how ridiculous is that by the way? Truckers get paid by the load and workers get paid by the hour. Those protesters were taking food out of the mouths of the folks who work there by there actions. Protest? Fine Petition your government?Excellent idea. Penalize the working class because you feel slighted by Big Corporation? Idiotic and mean spirited and deserving of being dispersed. 

    • MerkMan

      As to ‘Total Savagery’, van you say Zach Sowers? Or the nameof any of the four arrested last week for the racist beating downtown? Or the names of the 120+ Murder victims in this town last year? That, fellow Baltimorean is my definition of ‘Total Savagery’

  • Richard

     My experience is that the police have little interest in treating people with respect in  this city. In my 10 years of living here my bad experiences with the police far outweigh the good ones. I think that a lot of police officers were bullies as kids and they get a real rush out of brutalizing others. It’s all about power and getting a rise out of pushing people around. There’s a real sick psychological element to being a cop, in my opinion.  I wish we would follow the British model and take their guns away. I just don’t trust the BCPD.

  • Barnadine the Pirate

    There are no consequences to unlawful behavior by the police. The firing of the cop who abused the skateboarder at the Inner Harbor five years ago — captured on videotape — was not made final until this week. There are no consequences for costing the city millions of dollars due to excessive force and false arrest. There are no consequences for lying, cheating, stealing, even attacking fellow officers. This behavior is the direct result of being ABOVE THE LAW.

  • Ricardo

    just get a johns hopkins badge then the cops won’t bother you

  • Unellu

    Richard you have my vote.  And MerkMan–ah!  You are a white man on your high horse.  Thank you for you for a murky definition of savagery.  I say what you describe is savagery and what I describe is savagery too.  The two can be in the same slot together.  

  • Whitey

    Should be interesting to see how Bealefield explains this one. Seems hard to justify having a man cuffed with a knee in his neck and still feel the need to mace him. And mace him not once but repeatedly. I was surprised to see the cops not attempting to stop the cameraman based on past history. This is pretty ugly and my experience with cops has generally been positive. Yes I am Caucasian. Could that be a factor?

  • MerkMan

    When the suspect does not put his arms behind his back he is resisting arrest. The cops did not beat him, they did not taser him they did not shot him. I ask you, in the middle of a mob, in the middle of the street, a street with dump trunks and traffic trying to get through an unruly crowd that is illegally refusing to clear the public thoroughfare you detain one of the crowd who is charged with “Inciting a riot” and he refuses and resists legal and responsible efforts to restrain and remove him from the scene and be taken into custody some pepper spray in the face was the least amount of effort necessary, necessary to remove this man from the immediate scene. 
    And Unellu, the view from this “High Horse” shows me that you are just one more in a long line of black folk making excuses for other black folk’s bad behavior. Equating the vicious beating, kicking and maiming of an innocent man, who was attacked so viciously that he was comatose for months and then died to the pepper spraying of a rabble rouser be the police is sickening. Its no wonder the “Community” is in such sorry circumstances…

  • Unellu

    Savage–shameful–and sad–USA 2012

    You keep calculating the differences
    and drawing the fine lines
    I say it is all one and the same–
    the brutal beating of a man
    when he was stripped of his dignity–
    punched-and mocked
    as he lay on the ground–
    in Baltimore–in front of the court house–
    the mob laughing at his helplessness–
    the power of many–Black– on one side–
    over the powerlessness of one–White–
    on the other–
    that day they went for him–
    you or me– it could be anyone next–
    yet no one spoke up–
    no one raised a finger
    for the man on the ground–
    but they recorded the event–

    You keep analyzing the differences–
    and drawing the fine lines–
    I say it is all one and the same–
    the disappearance of a beautiful
    girl-child–the frantic wringing of the hands–
    of the mother–alone–at night–
    sleep eluding her eyes–
    the hole in her heart gaping–
    the search in the garbage cans–
    on the street her tiny body found
    by her brother haunted by the find–
    for ever scarred in his mind–
    her death an accident–
    by mistake shot by her friends–
    then dragged to hide the crime-
    like waste discarded–still breathing–

    You keep noting the differences–
    and drawing the fine lines–
    Mckinney and Henderson–White–
    Matthew Shepard–gay and White–
    Where is Shepard now?
    They found him
    tied to a fence–
    his whole face covered in blood–
    except for where his tears ran–
    the power of two–
    against the powerlessness of one–
    In Laramie, they come to that shrine–
    to lay flowers and wreaths down–
    to remember–
    how Mckinney and Henderson–
    beat Shepard to a pulp–
    and left him there–
    to die–a wisp of straw against a fence–
    taken out for being gay–

    You keep counting the differences–
    and drawing the fine lines–
    a young man–hoodie over his head–
    a bag of skittles in his hand–
    one minute whistling along–
    few minutes later– dead–
    shot in a scuffle with his killer-
    who says, “I did it in self defense.”
    Suddenly minus one child–
    his parents are puzzled
    and astonished
    at the great length of time
    taken to arrest the man
    who admitted to that crime–
    the man who died–Black–
    the man who shot him–White–
    the armed versus the unarmed–
    in a never ending cycle it turns–
    their triggers cocked and ready–
    their suspicions like acrid smoke-
    the white man says —
    he’s been convicted–already–
    his sentence delivered–by strangers–
    he’s the victim of victimhood marching–
    the power of an entire race moving–
    versus the powerlessness of one–

    You keep teasing out the differences–
    and drawing the fine lines–
    it was bin Laden against the world–
    Muslims against Christians–
    Muslims against Muslims–
    all kinds have lost their lives–
    to the fanatics who’ve wielded their swords–
    inexorably over the bodies–
    of those who’ve been sacrificed–
    to appease the barbaric push–
    for an eye and a tooth–
    for an eye and a tooth–
    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed–brown–
    Shoe Bomber–White–
    Underwear Bomber–Black–
    Explosives strapped up to belts–
    detonated for maximum damage–
    a man’s body was recently thrown–
    by a roadside in Quetta–he was found–
    severed from his compassionate head–
    he lived to help people –his friend said–
    when needed he was always there–
    in the most dangerous places–
    a candle in the darkness–a light–
    they snuffed him out–his captors–
    for a ransom they didn’t get–
    they didn’t connect him to others–
    they didn’t trace the lines–
    from him to those he helped–

    You keep shouting the differences–
    and drawing the fine lines–
    when the police in Baltimore
    threw an activist down–
    thrust their knees in his flesh–
    lifted his head by his hair–
    and sprayed right in his mouth–
    and his eyes–their acrid pepper spray–
    You ask, “What brutality that?”
    you say he should have put his arms
    behind his back–
    he should have submitted to authority-
    he should have allowed himself to be handcuffed–
    he should have listened–
    it was tense–
    traffic was backed up–
    it was only pepper spray–
    so what?
    it was not a beating–
    it was not volts of electric jolts–
    it could never be the same as a man comatose–
    for months after he was mugged
    by young thugs in Baltimore–
    that I would class the crimes you deplore–
    with a routine arrest–
    necessary to maintain law and order–

    and if everyone thought the way you do-
    about authority–no civil rights–
    slavery still–
    no gender equality–
    authority will be unquestioned king–
    it will order–
    it will swagger–
    it will growl–
    and everyone will bow–

    You keep calling out the differences–
    and drawing the fine lines–
    and I will say all the cases I’ve mentioned–
    are examples of man’s inhumanity to man–
    they are one and the same–
    savage–shameful– and sad!





    • MerkMan

      Nice, avoid the larger issue with pretty words. So much for dialogue. I can see you prefer demagogue.

    • MerkMan

      Unellu, having looked into this protest, it had nothing to do with Civil Rights, it had to do with the locals feeling they weren’t getting hired to work at a Hopkins construction site. Keeping working people from their jobs because you feel you’re not getting your fair share? I want your job so until I get my way I’ll keep you from working? How humanitarian and “Civil” is that? About “Police Brutality” I do not disagree, I’ve been on the other side of the baton more than once  over the years, in this country and in others, but raising the specter of Police Brutality in this case cheapens the claim when it should be reserved for true brutality. Ever heard the story of the boy who cried wolf? If you want people to pay attention pick and choose your causes as well as your fights.

  • Unellu

    I admire your intelligent discussion.  I don’t resort to demagoguery in my poem–like the person Crystal Santiford who sang at the city council, I do believe in songs and poetry to uplift and save us from ourselves.  I acknowledge all your practical points and I appreciate your language–sincerely, you write beautifully.   Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that the only thing that will save human kind from its current morass is some compassion and civility for the other.  We cannot answer the actions of the desperate and the hurt, the poor and the hurting with more desperate acts and violence.  We need empathy–and we must answer inconsiderate behavior with consideration and conversation, however urgent the moment may seem to us, we must not hurt others physically to attain our goals.  Authority must be particularly careful with citizens.  Mace may seem not so bad a devise for disbanding the unruly but if one among the unruly has heart disease or any other condition causing fragile health, it can result in a heart attack or other unforeseen medical consequences with a loss of life–not far fetched.  Always be civil and do not be cavalier toward your fellow human beings–we are seeing so much physical and mental violence in the world today, we are becoming desensitized.  Again, I simply do not see the finer differences in the various forms of physical violence.   As humans, we must make every effort to practice tolerance and we must answer the results of population, environmental, social and job pressures with sound policies that don’t drive people to despair–we cannot bludgeon them into submission and mace them into silence.    

    • MerkMan

      Government is Force.
      Disobedience of the Law has consequences.
      The protest at Hopkins was not Civil, it was simply Disobedient.
      Disobedience of the Law has consequences.
      As forceful, aggressive, and punishing the methods of restraining Mr. Threatt may have seemed, they do not rise to the level of brutality, in my opinion.
      I empathize with the message of the protesters, but they thought going out into traffic was a way to gain sympathy, or a  more likely explanation, publicity. 
      You seem eager to impune the authorities for excess use of Force yet there is no similar judgment of the action the protesters took. 
      What price publicity?
      The cost of fanning the flames of distrust and division by baiting the authorities into acting, and then exploiting that action. Not for the cause, not for JOBS, but for what?
      We’ll soon hear from the lawyers, charges will be levied, one side against the other, the cameras will continue to roll and in the end, in the end it will start all over again, somewhere else with nothing accomplished save money in the pockets of lawyer and even more disharmony and distrust between the “Community” and the “Authority”.
      And all because they wouldn’t get out of the street, was it worth it?

  • Unellu

    A protest is a protest and this protest was peaceful–no property was destroyed, no one was hurt physically by the protesters– there was inconvenience imposed on others but a protest is about catching the attention of the authorities–it is not about being a non entity in a corner with a useless placard in hand–it is about numbers. strength and disobedience and this was civil–the force used was cavalier.  You and I have to agree to disagree on this one.  You are a worthy intellectual opponent.  You have good points.  I believe the authority is responsible for the distrust you speak of and you believe the protesting citizens are responsible for it.  You and I are a case of the West and the East–never the twain shall meet.  Hope to see you on another thread.  Bye.

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