A Baltimore Police detective accused of using excessive force when he arrested a teen who had been recording officers with his cellphone and taunting them was found not guilty on Tuesday of misconduct in office.
Circuit Judge Lawrence R. Daniels acquitted Detective Charles Baugher in a one-day bench trial in Baltimore Circuit Court. Baugher is a more than 13-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department.
In explaining his decision, Daniels discussed how the criminal justice system does not operate in a vacuum. He mentioned other cases that have shined a light on the conduct of law enforcement in the United States.
He told an assistant state’s attorney that he was more taken by his opening statement than the evidence prosecutors presented at trial to purportedly support it. At the same time, Daniels said, the case would have been more difficult if it included a charge of second-degree assault.
On June 6, 2019, Baugher was assigned to the Southeast District Action Team, or DAT, and responded to South Kresson Street near East Lombard Street to help with an investigation as well as the arrest of Corey Dyson, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, Tyquwon Phillips was standing on the sidewalk, using his cellphone to record the arrest and cursing at officers. He was 17 at the time. Dyson and Phillips are related, prosecutors said.
At the direction of his supervisor, Baugher later went to arrest Phillips.
Baugher, the judge said, had tried to arrest someone who was not giving up. Medical records did not indicate that the young man suffered any injuries such as a concussion, Daniels said, and the interaction at most lasted several seconds.
Daniels contrasted the actions in the case with those of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who for nine minutes and 29 seconds placed his knee on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, and murdered him on May 25, 2020.
“This is the other end of the spectrum,” Daniels said. “He’s attempting to make a lawful arrest of someone who’s not cooperating with him.”
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office argued that the arrest itself was lawful but the way in which the detective made it constituted a crime. Court records do not indicate that Phillips was convicted of a crime.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ernest Reitz argued that Baugher employed a neck hold that was a prohibited use of deadly force.
Baugher, he said, pressed his thumb so hard into Phillips’ trachea that it made his eyes bulge out of his head and his body go limp.
Reitz said Baugher had other means available to him to make the arrest.
“It is an assault,” said Reitz, who tried the case with Assistant State’s Attorney Murphy Hartford. “And it amounts to misconduct in office.”
The indictment originally included a charge of second-degree assault, but prosecutors dismissed that count before trial.
Chaz Ball, Baugher’s attorney, contended that his client neither violated the law nor departmental policy.
Baugher made incidental, momentary contact to the neck when he was trying to take Phillips into custody, Ball said, and the interaction was over in seconds. That’s not using deadly force, he said.
“He gets him. He cuffs him. He gets him back up,” Ball said.
He said his client was responding to a dynamic situation. Ball told the judge that “we don’t look at these cases with 20/20 hindsight.”
Prosecutors called four witnesses, all of whom were police officers. Assistant state’s attorneys also played several body camera videos of the arrest.
At first, Baugher indicated that he wished to testify in his own defense. But after a discussion with his attorney outside the courtroom, he changed his mind.
Phillips could not be reached for comment.
South Kresson Street was “notorious to us as detectives,” Detective Raymond Burgos testified. The area, he said, had a reputation for people selling drugs and becoming rowdy with law enforcement.
He testified that he went to look for drugs that were possibly stashed in a baby carriage.
Burgos testified that Phillips bumped into him and made an “aggressive comment.”
Later, Burgos said, he walked down the street after hearing a commotion. That’s when Phillips, he said, bumped into him again. Baugher then arrested Phillips.
“I don’t think the use of force was anything egregious,” said Burgos, who later stated on cross-examination that Phillips was “resisting arrest.”
The supervisor of the Southeast District Action Team, Sgt. Jason Hines, testified that Phillips has “a history of shoulder-checking cops.”
Said Hines: “I think there was a lot of patience with Mr. Phillips that day.”