A Baltimore Police officer who failed to prevent a suspect in an assault from kicking a man lying unconscious on the ground was sentenced on Thursday to serve 60 days in jail.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Kendra Y. Ausby convicted Officer Christopher Nguyen, 27, of Hanover, of reckless endangerment but acquitted him of misconduct in office this past summer in a two-day bench trial.
Ausby ordered Nguyen to serve one year, with all but 60 days suspended, plus 1 1/2 years’ probation. He must also complete implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training.
In handing down the sentence, Ausby said she was struck by how the man was “vulnerable” and “absolutely helpless.” She said she reviewed information about how Nguyen rushed to help people in other cases, which she described as compelling evidence that what took place was a result of implicit bias.
“These are the natural, legal consequences of behavior,” said Ausby, who added that she did not believe that Nguyen acted with malice. “In this particular instance, the behavior was criminal.”
On Aug. 12, 2020, Nguyen was dispatched to a call about two men fighting on Kolb Avenue near Belair Road in Northeast Baltimore. Wayne Brown was lying face down and bleeding on the sidewalk.
Nguyen called for a medic and walked over to speak with Kenneth Somers, who was sitting nearby in a pickup truck. Somers stated he beat up Brown and alleged the man stole his car.
Later, Somers walked up to Brown, unleashed a series of taunts and kicked him once in the face, according to body camera video. At the time, Nguyen was asking Somers questions and jotting down notes.
Somers, 41, of Dundalk, was later found guilty of first-degree assault and reckless endangerment and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Nguyen testified during his own trial that, in hindsight, he would have detained Somers. He also stated he experienced tunnel vision and felt overwhelmed.
Ausby noted that Nguyen showed no reaction when Somers used a racial slur, appeared to accept his story about the stolen car as fact and seemed OK with street justice. At one point during the incident, Nguyen remarked, “You did what you had to do to get your car back.”
Nguyen also asked Somers whether he had considered professional fighting.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ernest Reitz asked the judge to hand down a sentence of six months, with all but 60 days suspended, plus one year of probation. That’s in addition to requiring the completion of implicit bias and cultural sensitivity training. Reitz said the conduct in the case “shocks the conscious.”
“I don’t know that in the history of the Baltimore City Police Department there’s ever been such a grave dereliction of duty,” Reitz said.
Nguyen, he said, not only failed to recognize that he had a duty to help a vulnerable person, but “he didn’t do anything.”
Next, Shanita Mitchell, Brown’s mother, said she recently rewatched the body camera video of the assault and came away speechless.
Mitchell said Nguyen left her son lying on the ground “like a piece of trash.”
“He’s supposed to be a police officer. He didn’t do nothing to help my son. Nothing,” said Mitchell, who added that her son has a permanent dent in his head. “He had no concern for human life at all,” she added.
She said she want to make sure that the police commissioner saw the video. Nguyen, she said, should not be a police officer.
Meanwhile, Chaz Ball, Nguyen’s attorney, asked for a sentence of probation before judgment. Ball said his client would have acted differently in hindsight but was lost at the scene.
“He’s a 27-year-old man who’s gone through his entire life and never thought that he could be on this side of the law,” Ball said. “It was just a situation that was moving too quickly for him, and he didn’t act in the way he should have in that circumstance,” he added.
Prosecutors, he noted, initially offered his client a plea agreement that did not call for incarceration.
Nguyen apologized and said that he has been undergoing counseling and learning about implicit bias.
“I just want to say what happened that day, I never thought was going to happen,” Nguyen said.
Following the trial, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said in a statement, “The citizens of Baltimore deserve to feel protected in the presence of a police officer and not fearful that they will stand idly by while an unrestrained suspect attacks them.”
In a letter after the indictment, Sgt. Mike Mancuso, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, wrote “one of our members was criminally charged by our social activist Baltimore City State’s Attorney.”
Nguyen joined the Baltimore Police Department in 2018. He earned a total of $71,290.23 in fiscal year 2021, according to the city’s salary database. His police powers are suspended.