A former Maryland Transit Administration police officer is not guilty of charges of second-degree assault and misconduct in office stemming from a confrontation in which he repeatedly punched a man in the face and slammed him into a metal trash can, a Baltimore judge ruled on Tuesday.
Circuit Judge Martin H. Schreiber II said former MTA Police Officer Aaron Sewell told Kaiya Parker to put on a shirt or leave the platform of the Rogers Avenue Metro Station in Northwest Baltimore at about 11:15 p.m. on June 20, 2020. Parker twice refused.
Next, Parker approached Sewell, indicated that he had ties to the Black Guerrilla Family and threatened to shoot him, Schreiber said.
Sewell, he said, put his hand on Parker. He slapped it away, Schreiber said.
Schreiber described the situation as extremely dangerous, noting that it was late at night on a dark subway platform. The state, he said, had failed to prove the elements of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
“It’s a hard standard proving a crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” Schreiber said at the end of the two-day bench trial in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. “This is one of those cases where the state couldn’t reach that high burden.”
Chaz Ball, Sewell’s attorney, noted in his closing argument that MTA rules require people to wear a shirt and shoes at all stations.
Parker, he said, escalated the situation. That happened when he got into the personal space of Sewell and slapped his hand away, Ball said.
Sewell wrote in a narrative of the encounter that Parker alleged he had ties to the Black Guerrilla Family and stated, “I will shoot you, and you better call for backup.” Ball said the state did not present any evidence to refute that claim.
Parker, 33, of Old Goucher, testified that he did not remember making threats. He’s currently incarcerated on unrelated charges of first- and second-degree assault and openly carrying a deadly weapon with the intent of injuring any person, according to online court records.
At one point, Parker invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Parker testified that he didn’t want to put on his shirt because it had touched the ground. He said he was waiting on the platform for a family member to pick him up.
“You cannot look at an action with hindsight 20/20,” Ball said. “Officer Sewell lived his life live in that moment.”
“It was justified,” he later added. “The state has to prove it wasn’t beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Meanwhile, in his closing argument, Assistant State’s Attorney Steven Trostle referred to portions of the MTA Police force’s use-of-force policy, which states in all capital letters that police officers must use force consistent with the severity and urgency of the incident.
That’s in addition to using the minimum amount of force necessary to accomplish their mission.
“The incident was the dude wasn’t wearing a shirt,” Trostle said.
Sewell, he said, did not attempt to de-escalate the situation and delivered strikes to the head. Instead of calling for backup, he “did the dance with the man,” Trostle said.
Even if Sewell was legally justified in punching Parker in the face, Trostle argued that the remaining force in the case crossed the line. He asked whether it was reasonable for Sewell to body-slam Parker’s head into the concrete platform.
Surveillance cameras captured the encounter on the platform.
Outside the courtroom, Sewell, 32, of Sandtown-Winchester, declined to be interviewed. He served as an MTA police officer from 2016-2021 and left in good standing to become a firefighter.
In a statement announcing the indictment, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said the case “shows once again that we take police misconduct very seriously in my office.”
Said Mosby: “It doesn’t matter what job you do, or what uniform you wear — if you break the law, you will be brought to justice.”
- Ex-MTA police officer standing trial on assault, misconduct charges stemming from incident at Metro station