A Baltimore Police detective was sentenced on Friday to 18 months of probation on a charge of misconduct in office stemming from allegations that he assaulted two men and then lied about what happened in the scuffle in a statement of probable cause in 2019.
As he handed down the sentence, Baltimore Circuit Judge Gregory Sampson said police officers must have the trust of the community to solve cases. Detective Leon Riley IV, he said, failed to de-escalate a situation and then made false statements.
“I expect criminals to act like criminals,” Sampson said. “I don’t expect police officers to act like criminals.”
If there had not been body camera video, Sampson said, the two men might be the ones in court — “instead of him.”
Riley, 32, entered an Alford plea in 2022. That means he did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to secure a conviction.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office agreed to drop charges of second-degree assault and perjury and cap the sentence at three years, with all time suspended, plus 18 months of probation.
Riley was searching a person suspected of violating drug laws on South Smallwood Street in Boyd-Booth on April 22, 2019. Meanwhile, Sterlyn Butcher and Stephon Martin were standing 5 to 10 feet away, prosecutors said, watching what was happening.
Police told them to back up several times and they moved back 10 to 15 feet. But Riley then approached the two men, yelled at them to leave and pushed Butcher, prosecutors said.
At one point, Riley used a prohibited neck hold when he arrested Martin, body camera video showed.
Riley also falsely alleged in a statement of probable cause that Butcher stepped within feet of him and “postured himself in aggressive manner, balling his fist and jerking his head in my direction,” prosecutors said.
“Detective Riley betrayed the public trust, your honor,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Ernest Reitz, who added that Riley made “threats of future misconduct” in stating that he would repeatedly arrest bystanders at the scene on low-level offenses if they impeded his investigation.
Reitz said he was not opposed if the judge later modified the sentence to probation before judgment but objected at this time.
But Chaz Ball, Riley’s attorney, said his client has taken the case seriously and already completed online classes on cultural sensitivity and implicit bias.
Riley, he said, is a more than 10-year veteran and the father of five girls. He was assigned to the Tri-District Action Team — or DAT — which is tasked with addressing guns, drugs and violent crime.
“Regardless of the court’s finding today, there’s going to be administrative actions as a result,” Ball said.
Ball asked the judge to strike the finding of guilt and enter probation before judgment. But Sampson denied the request, stating that Riley will have to earn that result.
Riley did not make a statement in court. He’s set to appear on Feb. 28 before a police trial board.