Police Higher-Ups Are Now Target of Probe In Beating Incident

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Detectives are investigating a March 2010 incident in which police officers, outfitted in riot gear, allegedly beat an unarmed University of Maryland student. They are attempting to determine whether or not police supervisors may have been implicated, and whether or not there was an attempted cover-up after the incident.

The fracas began after the university’s basketball team defeated that of rival Duke University; in previous years there had been rioting, fires and vandalism following games, so about 100 officers in riot gear took to the streets to provide immediate response in the event of violence.

A video of the beating, which occurred near the College Park campus, shows John J. McKenna, 21, approaching an officer on horseback. Although he does not appear to have touched either the horse or the man, instead stopping about five feet away, two county police riot officers can be seen rushing McKenna. They push him forcefully against a wall, then beat him with their batons until the student collapsed to the ground. At this point, the cellphone video shows a third officer joining the fray, in which McKenna—who was not resisting—is beaten about the head, torso and legs with over a dozen blows from the metal batons.

None of the officers involved in the beating filed a use-of-force report, although the police department requires this paperwork whenever officers resort to force during a disturbance or arrest.

Along with fellow student Benjamin D. Donat, 19, with whom he was alleged to have been working in concert, McKenna was initially charged with assaulting police officers on horseback and their horses. Attorneys for the students released the video after charges against the pair had been dismissed.

Now detectives in Prince George’s County are reviewing cellphone messages and emails sent and received, both the day of the beating and the day afterward, by the two police commanders, Maj. Kevin Putnam—who was in charge of the officers who beat McKenna—and Maj. Daniel A. Dusseau. They were also taking a look at texts and emails that were sent around the time the video was released.

The investigation is being conducted by the state’s attorney’s office, with extensive assistance from the police department’s internal affairs detectives. Although the FBI is reviewing the incident, they are not actively investigating, according to sources.

Twenty-eight people were arrested that night in connection with the post-game gatherings, on charges of disorderly conduct and other offenses. In 22 of the cases, prosecutors have dropped the charges. One defendant pleaded guilty, one was found not guilty in a trial, and three cases have been placed on the inactive docket.

 

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