Cops' Beating Of U-Md Student Latest Outrage For DC Suburb : The Two-Way The widely publicized beating of an unarmed college University of Maryland student by members of the Prince George's, Md. County Police Department following the school basketball team's victory over rival Duke likely didn't surprise anyone who's f...
NPR logo Cops' Beating Of U-Md Student Latest Outrage For DC Suburb

Cops' Beating Of U-Md Student Latest Outrage For DC Suburb

The widely publicized beating of an unarmed University of Maryland student by members of the Prince George's, Md. County Police Department following a Maryland-Duke basketball game likely didn't surprise anyone who's followed that particular suburban Washington police force over the years.

For the PG County police have earned a reputation for administering beatings to unarmed and innocent citizens and sometimes even shooting them to death.

The practices by the county's police department were deemed so illegal that the Bush Administration's Justice Department sued the county and won court-approved oversight of the police department. Justice Department supervision clearly didn't solve all the problems in that force.

There've been so many brutality cases against the department that John J. McKenna, the 21-year old student who the police said had attacked them as well as police horses, charges proved false by a video, had no trouble finding a lawyer with abundant experience in such cases. Attorney Terrell N. Roberts III was profiled by the Washington Post in 2003.

The modus operandi in the McKenna beating follows a common pattern. A cop or cops beat a victim, then charge him with assaulting them only to have prosecutors drop the charges when a video emerges or the evidence fails to fit the "facts" alleged by the police.

Just days after the McKenna beating, in fact, the county settled a police brutality case for $125,000 in which a man was pepper sprayed and assaulted by police for no apparent reason.

An excerpt from the Washington Post:

A federal civil lawsuit filed by a man who was beaten and pepper-sprayed by two Prince George's County police officers during a traffic stop has been settled for $125,000.

Attorneys for the county agreed to pay that amount to Rafael A. Rodriguez, 31.

Rodriguez had sued Cpl. John Wynkoop and Cpl. Scott Wilson, accusing them of false arrest and excessive force during the 2008 encounter, which occurred in College Park.

Rodriguez said Thursday that he was disappointed in the settlement but that he agreed to it because he wanted to get the matter behind him. "Mentally, this has caused me a lot of harm," Rodriguez said. "I remember everything that happened to me. Money won't cure that."

The incident was recorded by a video device mounted in the police car of one of the officers.

Rodriguez was represented by Roberts also, the same lawyer representing the college student.

Fortunately for McKenna, the county police didn't use the sort of deadly force disproportionate to the threat for which they also were known for. From a 2001 Washington Post story:

By any measure, Prince George's County police have shot and killed people at rates that exceed those of nearly any other large police force in the nation.

Since 1990, they have shot 122 people, killing 47 of them.

By one standard -- the number of fatal shootings per officer -- they killed more people than any major city or county police force from 1990 through 2000.

Almost half of those shot were unarmed, and many had committed no crime. Unlike many departments, Prince George's top police officials concluded that every one of the shootings was justified.

Among the shootings ruled justified:

An unarmed construction worker was shot in the back after he was detained in a fast-food restaurant. An unarmed suspect died in a fusillade of 66 bullets as he tried to flee from police in a car. A homeless man was shot when police mis-took his portable radio for a gun. And an unarmed man was killed after he pulled off the road to relieve himself.

An investigation by The Washington Post found that during the past decade, Prince George's police miscalculated the threat they faced dozens of times -- mistaking an object for a gun or a sudden movement for an act of aggression. Moreover, the police department defended shootings by issuing reports that were riddled with inconsistencies, contradictions and half-truths.

In many cases, official police accounts were at odds with witness statements and facts contained in autopsy reports, court documents and other records.

One of the best-known cases in the Washington area of a fatal police shooting involving the county police was that of Prince Jones.

The unarmed Howard University student, the son of a radiologist, was shot dead by undercover county police who in 2000 pursued him across state lines into Virginia, then shot him in what was a case of mistaken identity.

In was announced Wednesday that the FBI is investigating the most recent beating of the U-Md student. Also, it's been announced that the officers identified as being involved in the beating have been suspended while the investigation continues though their names haven't yet been made public.