On Dec. 2, 2019, Baltimore Police Detective Leon Riley IV was on routine patrol on West Lexington Street as part of his assignment with a plainclothes unit that covered parts of the Southern, Southwestern and Western districts.

The Tri-District Action Team — or DAT — was tasked with finding guns, drugs and violent crime. He and his partner circled the block.

Riley got out of the police cruiser, walked up to a group of people who were standing on the sidewalk in front of a vacant rowhome and apartment building, and eventually grabbed David Dixon.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Philip S. Jackson is now tasked with deciding what happened that afternoon: whether Riley assaulted Dixon for no reason, or if the detective believed the man was trespassing and might have been armed. That’s because Riley, 31, is standing trial this week on charges of first- and second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

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In his opening statement on Tuesday, Assistant State’s Attorney Ernest Reitz said Riley grabbed Dixon without provocation or justification and that a tussle ensued.

On the body-worn camera video, Dixon does not punch, hit or kick the detective at any point. Though Riley exclaims that he was bitten, that’s not captured on video, Reitz said.

People are allowed to use reasonable means to resist an unlawful arrest, he said. Riley told Dixon that police were arresting him for trespassing.

“The gentlemen are standing on a public sidewalk,” Reitz said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Police employed a stun gun three times. Riley, he said, used an “illegal and out of policy” chokehold on Dixon.

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But Chaz Ball, Riley’s attorney, said his client observed people who were standing in front of two properties posted with “No Trespassing” signs.

When Dixon saw police, he started to turn around and go toward his waist, Ball said. That’s characteristic of a person who’s armed.

Dixon, he said, escalated the situation. Though he did not have a gun, law enforcement recovered other contraband on him: heroin and cocaine.

“He was right about it,” Ball said in his opening statement. “But he wasn’t a mind reader.”

Ball called the whole situation “very fluid,” later describing it as crazy and hectic. He said his client contemporaneously exclaimed that he’d been bitten.

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For almost 4 1/2 hours, Riley’s partner that day, Sgt. Brian Flynn, testified while the state played body-worn camera video.

Watching the video, Flynn said Dixon had a bulge in his jacket, that his eyes darted back and forth and that he turned away from the detective.

At one point, Flynn testified that “an unlawful arrest and one you don’t like are not necessarily the same thing.”

Police officers, he said later in his testimony, often make observations that are not captured on their body-worn cameras. “The absence of video proof does not make it a lie,” he said.

When answering questions about the phrasing in police reports, Flynn asked, “Are we going to criminally charge someone for a typo?”

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A 45-second clip of the arrest previously went viral. In the video, Riley can be seen with his arm around Dixon’s neck. Dixon exclaims, “You choking me, sir.”

The trial is set to resume on Wednesday in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

Riley has been on the force since 2012. His salary is $78,844, but he remains suspended without pay, said Lindsey Eldridge, a police spokesperson, in an email.

In a separate case, Riley faces charges of second-degree assault, perjury and misconduct on allegations that he attacked two men, Stephon Martin and Sterlyn Butcher, on South Smallwood Street in Southwestern Baltimore on April 22, 2019, and lied in a statement of probable cause.

Prosecutors said the state no longer wished to try the cases together, but did not provide further explanation in court.

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Toward the end of the body-worn camera video, Dixon is in an ambulance and remarks to Riley, “My lawyer going to wear you thin. I promise you.”

The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office dropped the criminal case against Dixon. He also filed a lawsuit against Riley, Flynn, and the Baltimore Police Department, which is on hold, according to online court records.

Dixon will not be able to testify at trial. On March 1, he was shot and killed in the area of South Carey and West Baltimore streets in West Baltimore. He was 25.


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