By Baynard Woods
Court proceedings in a series of civil lawsuits against Baltimore Police officers for alleged brutality and civil rights violations during the 2015 uprising following the death of Freddie Gray begin Wednesday with the case of Larry Lomax, who was pulled to the ground by his dreadlocks after being pepper sprayed.
Lomax spent three weeks in jail after his arrest but was later found not guilty on all charges. “There was too many of us getting killed or brutalized by police,” he told The Real News after the verdict.
Lomax was protesting the illegal curfew on May 2, the day after Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six officers, when Lt. Christopher O’Ree allegedly sprayed Lomax’s face with “a large canister of pepper spray from only a few feet away,” according to the suit. O’Ree later testified in the criminal case against Lomax, in which he was found not guilty of all charges, that he used a large can of pepper spray intended for big crowds.
Immediately after he was sprayed, another officer, identified in the suit as Sgt. Keith Gladstone walked up behind Lomax, grabbed him by the hair and pulled him to the ground. “Still using Mr. Lomax’s hair, Sergeant Gladstone maneuvered him onto his side and then onto his stomach on the street,” the suit reads.
In video of the incident, which went viral, after other officers handcuffed Lomax, Gladstone ran off chasing other protesters with pepper spray.
People in law enforcement who are familiar with both men have described Sgt. Gladstone as a “sort of a mentor” to Wayne Jenkins, who recently pleaded guilty to numerous charges of corruption for stealing drugs and money, planting drugs on suspects, and writing false statements of charges.
Court records show that Gladstone and Jenkins were working together as early as 2008, frequently making arrests together in 2010, around the time that Jenkins, officer Ryan Guinn, and slain detective Sean Suiter initiated a chase of Umar Burley, which resulted in an uninvolved driver’s death and was covered up when a sergeant arrived on the scene with an ounce of heroin to plant in Burley’s car. The sergeant has not yet been named and, after a brief suspension following the federal indictment, officer Guinn is back on the job. Suiter was killed the day before he was scheduled to testify in the matter. His death remains unsolved.
In a 2014 case highlighted by a former prosecutor, Jenkins and Det. Ben Frieman wrote statements of probable cause that were contradicted by CCTV footage of the incident. They allegedly used the false statements to get a search warrant, which was carried out by Gladstone.
Gladstone has been the subject of other civil suits. In 2006, Gladstone was one of several officers sued by William Downing, who alleged that in 2000, one unmarked police vehicle pulled up behind him and began blowing its horn, while another then cut him off from the front. All of the officers, he alleged, were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves as police. According to the suit, when he tried to open the car door, one of the officers broke the window with a lug wrench, after which Gladstone and another officer threw him on the ground and “continuously punched him throughout his body and face with their fists, flashlights, and a automobile wrench….After the Defendants completed their assault/battery, Defendants planted a large bag of suspected cocaine on plaintiff’s person.”
The suit was dismissed by a judge because “the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted,” “there was an insufficiency of process,” and the “Baltimore Police Department and the State of Maryland have sovereign immunity.”
In 2003, a federal judge rebuked Gladstone in court. “They are not making cases. They’re not building investigations. And I saw that with all respect to Detective [Keith] Gladstone [seated in court]. They are just making arrests. They are just making seizures.”
After Lomax was handcuffed and dragged away by Sgt. Joseph Landsman (the son of Jay Landsman, the model for John Munch on “Homicide: Life on the Street” and later “Law & Order”) and officer Robert Hankard, both of whom are defendants in the case, on May 2, 2015, video shows Det. Daniel Hersl walk up and stand over him, pointing down and saying something to the officers standing with him. In another of the civil cases filed together against the department, that will come to trial later this winter, Hersl is accused of chasing down a journalist and throwing him on his face.
On the video, Hersl, shown walking with other officers, comes up behind a young man minutes after the beginning of the 10:00 p.m. curfew. “Go on, get the hell out of here,” he said, pushing the man.
Then Hersl directs the National Guard to pursue a protester. The journalist Andrew Fischer followed, recording it. Guard members approach him with rifles as BPD is making an arrest, telling him to back up and asking to see his credentials. As Hersl appears to approach Fischer from behind, one of the guardsmen says “He’s credentialed media.”
“I don’t care,” Hersl can be heard saying.
Only months earlier, Hersl, who had been the subject of numerous complaints, had been one of the subjects of a major investigative story on excessive force settlements in the Baltimore Sun. Many people were surprised to see him on the street at all. He was also filmed pepper spraying protesters at Penn North several days later.
For years, rapper Young Moose and his family had been claiming that Hersl fabricated charges and stole property. Hersl is one of the only GTTF officers who has maintained his innocence. His federal corruption trial is expected to begin next week.
Opening arguments are expected to begin in Lomax’s civil suit on Thursday.
“We’re trying to show that excessive force against peaceful protesters, against people engaged in First Amendment activity is wrong and is not tolerated and will not be tolerated,” said Wylie Stecklow, Lomax’s lawyer.