Baltimore judge throws out case against detective accused of assaulting man who refused to put on mask and leave supermarket at start of COVID-19 pandemic

Published on: July 28, 2022 6:19 PM EDT|Updated on: July 28, 2022 7:20 PM EDT

6/28/22—the exterior of the Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. Courthouse.
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Toward the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandon Walker wanted to withdraw money from an ATM to pay his phone bill.

At the time, Walker testified on Thursday in Baltimore Circuit Court, he was delivering food for GrubHub and DoorDash. He was walking using one crutch because he’d recently broken his foot.

On April 19, 2020, Walker went into the Shoppers Food & Pharmacy on Gwynn Falls Parkway at Mondawmin Mall without a mask covering his nose and mouth. He had one on top of his head — he said it was painful to put it on because he’d suffered severe burns — and refused requests from an assistant manager and loss prevention officer to pull the mask over his face.

That’s when employees summoned off-duty Baltimore Police Detective Andre Pringle, who was working a second job at the supermarket, to ask Walker to leave. Back then, both Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young and Gov. Larry Hogan had issued mask orders.

Walker repeatedly stopped, turned around and swore at Pringle. Meanwhile, Pringle calmly told Walker again and again to keep going, according to testimony and audio played in court.

At one point, close to the exit, Walker turned around toward Pringle. That’s when he pushed him one time.

“I was going to hit him in the face,” Walker testified in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. But before he could fully raise his crutch, he said, Pringle took him to the ground.

Stating that no reasonable trier of fact could find that Pringle did anything amounting to a crime, Circuit Judge Jennifer B. Schiffer granted a motion for judgment of acquittal and threw out charges of second-degree assault and misconduct in office at the end of a bench trial.

Sometimes, Schiffer said, it is necessary for police officers to put their hands on people. She said she was incredibly impressed with the restraint that Pringle, 47, demonstrated during the entire encounter.

Outside the courtroom, Pringle’s attorney Andrew Alperstein said he believed the judge made the correct decision and that the state should have never brought the criminal charges.

Pringle, he said, is a good man and police officer. Family members, friends and coworkers filled the courtroom gallery and started clapping after the judge issued her decision.

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“He was more patient than almost anyone could ever be with this very difficult customer who was risking the safety and life of other people,” Alperstein said. “I’m just glad that the judge found he did not do anything wrong.”

Zy Richardson, a spokesperson for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office, could not immediately be reached.

At the time, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement, “This indictment alleges actions that we simply cannot tolerate or accept from those that are sworn to protect and serve the citizens of this city.”

Walker, 27, of West Baltimore, eventually pleaded guilty to violating the mask order and received a sentence of probation before judgment. He appeared in court in handcuffs, shackles and a yellow jumpsuit as he’s awaiting trial on separate charges of second-degree assault and wearing, carrying, or transporting a handgun without a license.

In his opening statement, Alperstein recounted the fear and uncertainty at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, discussing the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

“Andre Pringle was one of the heroes,” Alperstein said. “And Mr. Selfish walks into the grocery store without a mask.”

Walker, he said, was obstinate. Alperstein told the judge that she had to evaluate the case through what a reasonable police officer would do in the same situation.

But Assistant State’s Attorney Kimberly Rothwell said the case was about “abuse of authority,” and noted that adults teach children to keep their hands to themselves.

“The defendant did not keep his hands to himself that day,” Rothwell said in her opening statement. “And that’s why we’re here.”

Rothwell and her co-counsel, Assistant State’s Attorney Ernest Reitz, called two additional witnesses and played body-worn camera video, though the monitor was facing the judge and spectators could not fully see it.

First, Calvin Wilder, a loss prevention officer at Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, testified that he asked Walker to leave at least five times. He said Walker never mentioned burns making it painful for him to wear a mask.

Though Walker testified that some people in the supermarket were not wearing masks, Wilder said that was not the case.

Walker, he said, was cursing the entire time and appeared to be stalling when leaving the store. “Even when he was down, he was still cussing,” Wilder said, describing the behavior as “belligerent.”

Next, Rothwell called Baltimore Police Detective Rocco Fusillo, who’s assigned to the Public Integrity Bureau. The judge, though, sustained most of her questions.

Pringle is a more than 24-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department. His police powers are suspended, a spokesperson reported, and he’s serving in an administrative capacity.

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