He Faced 26 Years in Prison, But Still Stood Up to Police Brutality
Aaron Winston’s arm was broken after he was chokeslammed by a Baltimore police officer, and he’s been cleared of all charges brought against him. Winston discusses his case alongside his lawyer J. Wyndal Gordon.
KWAME ROSE, TRNN: Aaron Winston is a name that your probably aren’t familiar with, but his story is similar to those of victims of police brutality that have trended across the country. In February earlier this year Aaron Winston was celebrating a friend’s birthday in this club, Mosaic, here at Power Plant in Baltimore City when Baltimore City police officers choke slammed him, broke his arm, and walked Aaron across the street to the police district. Now, a couple weeks ago Aaron Winston’s charges were dropped, he was cleared. But yet he still suffers trauma and is still recovering from his injuries. Our team at the Real News Network sat down with Aaron Winston and his lawyer J. Wyndal Gordon and asked him: what does it feel like to be a survivor of police brutality, to live, and to tell your own story?
For people who may be opponents of Black Lives Matter and don’t believe police brutality or racial profiling exists, tell us who Aaron Winston is.
AARON WINSTON: I’m a 25-year-old longshore man. I work at the Port of Baltimore. Graduated school. Overall good kid. Stay out of trouble for the most part. I’m more focused on being successful at anything. And for them to call me a hoodlum like they did–and not that this means anything, but I lived in a Freddie Gray neighborhood. He referred to Freddie Gray. Like what does that have to do with anything? But any who that’s not even me. I’m not even from that neighborhood. So yeah, I’m just–I’m Aaron.
ROSE: What’s different about this case than the other cases when Baltimore police have been accused of police brutality? Your client was charged subsequently with seven charges originally, but then three of the charges were dismissed and then he was found not guilty on the other remaining charges. What stands out about this case in particular?
J. WYNDAL GORDON: He survived. He lived. That’s what stands out about it. And not only did he live but he’s able to tell his story. And not only is he able to tell his story but he’s able to have the courage to do something about holding these officers accountable for what they’ve done. So many times these stories are never told and they go unreported. It’s overly aggressive prosecuting. It’s overly aggressive policing. And in some instances the courts are incredibly harsh when it comes to sentencing individuals who are accused of committing these types of crimes such as assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct. Everybody rallies around the police. So even in this case he’s fighting against a system as well as the department and the prosecutor’s office.
ROSE: Do you feel as though the prosecution’s office is kind of giving a pass to Baltimore police officers after this?
GORDON: Legally and morally.
ROSE: Legally, morally, Baltimore police with all the facts presented subsequently broke a law-abiding citizen’s arm. They essentially held him hostage and then charged him to justify. Why is that allowed?
GORDON: Because again, these types of incidents go under-reported. So I commend Mr. Winston for his courage and staring in the face 26-plus years, and rejecting the probation before judgment in order to have his day in court and come out victorious because a lot of us do not. We just don’t do that.
ROSE: Aaron, you were facing, as Mr. Wyndal your lawyer just said, 26-plus years.
ROSE: The night of the incident all you were doing was trying to figure out why the police were arresting your friend. You asked the question and then were choke slammed and had your arm broken. Would you do it again? Was it worth it?
WINSTON: No. Not really. It wasn’t worth it but at the same time everything happens for a reason. I’m here for a reason. I feel like God put me here to be a voice to me and my lawyer, we’re here. So yeah, I do feel like it was meant to be. I would do it again.
ROSE: Are you scared of the police? But were you scared before this? Does this change your belief on policing?
WINSTON: To an extent, yes. I’m a little terrified of them. When I get around them I start to sweat. But other than that, no. They just–I want nothing to go wrong with me. I know I’m a high-profile case and I know they’re out for me. So I try to stay on my Ps and Qs, and if something was to happen, I was to get pulled over, anything, I would kind of be nervous yes.
GORDON: Let me kind of respond to that question. It’s a great question to actually ask. He was just engaged in ordinary human behavior. He had driven this gentleman to the club that was being put out of the club. The police didn’t even have their hands on this gentleman to escort him out of the club. The gentlemen according to the police voluntarily left the club. So he didn’t even realize that he was being escorted out until he got up on the police officer and tried to communicate with him. And that’s when he’s snatched from behind by [inaud.].
So he didn’t even see this person. [Inaud.] wasn’t even in the picture. He saw Mr. Andre Smith, who he had known from a neighborhood where he used to work, and known him very well. He’d known him for a couple of years. So to ask him whether or not he’d do it again, he wouldn’t know whether or not he’d do it again because this was just him behaving as any ordinary human being would if their friend was leaving a night spot that they had traveled together with one another.
ROSE: I see one knife. I see two knives. I see a Taser. I see a gun. I see handcuffs. But what stands out is the knives. This officer is prepared to harm someone. Do you think this was intentional? Was this intentional?
WINSTON: Yes. I do think it was intentional. I know from what I heard from what he said in a statement. He was working for 27 hours. Think he probably had a little aggression on his shoulder, little chip on his shoulder, and he found the perfect opportunity and he took advantage of it.
ROSE: Aaron Winston was cleared of all charges brought against him during his criminal trial. His attorney J. Wyndal Gordon would neither confirm or deny as to whether or not a civil case will be brought against Baltimore City Police. In the past the Baltimore Sun has found that from 2011 to 2014 $5.7 million had been paid to victims of police brutality by Baltimore City and Baltimore City’s Police Department. That number does not include the $6.4 million that was paid to the family of Freddie Gray at the end of last year before the start of any of the officers charged in his death.
Aaron Winston lives to tell his story and accountability is still being demanded. The only thing is that change from the other side in particular the police department has yet to become a reality.
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