Throughout the 28 years that he worked in the Baltimore Police Department, Ethan Newberg said, he received positive evaluations and commendations for his service.
But Newberg lamented how his career has somehow been defined by a “handful of videos.” Not the lives he saved. Not the guns and drugs he recovered. Not the homicide suspect that he apprehended within hours of a killing.
Newberg spoke before he was sentenced on Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court on a charge of misconduct in office for falsely arresting people on nine occasions between 2018 and 2019 and engaging in what prosecutors once described as a “pattern and practice of harassment and intimidation.”
Newberg said he believed that jails were for people who are a danger to the community. But Newberg said he did not get into any trouble while his criminal case was pending.
If the point of incarceration is to send a message, Newberg said, police officers already received one that’s “loud and clear.” They’re not being proactive in addressing crime for fear of facing prosecution, he said.
“I’m not a police officer anymore, and my career ended on such a negative note,” said Newberg, who reached the rank of sergeant and retired on July 1. “How much is enough punishment?”
Saying that his actions were probably acceptable during the era of broken-windows policing but not in today’s environment, Circuit Judge Robert K. Taylor Jr. later sentenced Newberg, 53, of Westminster, to serve six months on home detention plus two years’ probation.
Taylor lamented how these kinds of cases sow contempt of the criminal justice system. At one point, he declared, “This is the reason I can’t seat a jury.”
The investigation into Newberg started after he was arrested on charges of second-degree assault, false imprisonment and misconduct in office for illegally arresting Lee Dotson on Ashton Street near South Bentalou Street in Carrollton Ridge on May 30, 2019. The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed body camera video and uncovered eight additional instances when he falsely arrested people.
The Board of Estimates, the mayor-controlled spending board, recently approved a pair of $287,500 settlements to resolve lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against Newberg. He was once the city’s highest paid employee, making $260,775 in fiscal year 2019.
Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison called Newberg’s actions “deeply disturbing and illegal” in 2019 at a news conference. Newberg is on the “Do Not Call” list of current and former police officers whom prosecutors will not summon to testify in any court proceedings.
Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Trostle, chief of the Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit, asked the judge to hand down the maximum sentence under the plea agreement: three years in prison.
Newberg, he said, had minimized his actions and failed to take responsibility. Trostle at one point called him a “rogue cop” and noted that he was in a “position of trust.”
During the encounters, Newberg was rude and lacked empathy, he said, strong-arming people who did nothing wrong into apologizing to him to gain their freedom. One of the men spoke at sentencing about how the experience has affected his sense of security and trust.
“He stripped them down,” Trostle said. “He embarrassed them. He made them feel devalued.”
“Sergeant Newberg’s actions,” he added, “tarnishes the great work of the many.”
Newberg often told people that he falsely arrested to “take your charge.” Trostle said Newberg “needs to take his charge” — and the sentence that went with it.
But Joe Murtha, Newberg’s attorney, requested that the judge impose a sentence that did not involve incarceration.
Murtha said his client accepted responsibility for the crime when he pleaded guilty to misconduct in office. Newberg, he said, served with honor for more than 25 years and is no longer a police officer.
“Punishment can take many forms,” said Murtha, who added that his client experienced physical and emotional trauma while on the job. “It doesn’t have to be incapacitation or incarceration.”
In a statement, Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates said, “The people of Baltimore and the Baltimore Police Department are, undoubtedly, safer because this officer’s actions also put their lives at risk through behavior that can escalate situations and antagonize residents.”
Bates thanked the Public Trust and Police Integrity Unit for “holding this officer accountable for violating the constitutional rights of the very people he swore to protect and serve.”
Outside the courtroom, Murtha said he was relieved that the judge determined that an appropriate sentence in the case did not involve incarceration.
Said Murtha: “I think the message has already gone out to the Baltimore Police officers that this kind of policing is no longer going to be accepted.”