Video caught a cop making an illegal arrest, but he was just getting started

A new transparency law meant to make police disciplinary records quickly available to the public is coming under scrutiny as departments have stonewalled requests for information and charged exorbitant fees. PAR decided to test the law by filing a request for body camera footage from one of Baltimore’s most notorious cops accused of making multiple illegal arrests. On this week’s episode, we give audience a look at what we found.

Pre-Production: Stephen Janis
Studio/Post-Production: Stephen Janis, Dwayne Gladden


Transcript

Taya Graham:        Hello. My name is Taya Graham, and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. As I always make clear, this show has a single purpose: holding the politically powerful institution of policing accountable. And to do so, we don’t just focus on the bad behavior of individual cops. Instead, we examine the system that makes bad policing possible. And today we will achieve that goal by reporting on this video. An illegal arrest by a cop who actually handcuffed someone for talking. An incident that was so extreme it triggered a deeper investigation, and now is raising serious questions about transparency in a beleaguered police department.

But before we get started, I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at par@therealnews.com. And please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and that I appreciate them. And of course, you can always reach out to me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook or Twitter. And of course, if you can, please hit the Patreon donate link pinned in the comments below, because we do have some extras there for our PAR family. Okay, now we’ve gotten all that out of the way.

Now, as we’ve emphasized again and again on this show, there is nothing more important to holding police accountable than transparency. The famous phrase in journalism is that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and it certainly applies to the bad behavior of cops, as we have seen over and over again on this show. That’s why a current development involving one of the most crooked cops from a seriously troubled department requires more attention.

The story we’re talking about can be told simply by watching this video. An illegal arrest by a former Baltimore city police officer, Ethan Newberg. Newberg had detained a suspect who he had forced to sit on a curb shortly after a rainstorm had soaked the street. During the arrest, an innocent man walked by and made a comment about the indignity of forcing someone to sit in a veritable puddle. But, instead of ignoring the comment and recognizing the First Amendment rights of a man to speak, Newberg took an entirely different tact. He decided that talking to a cop was a crime, and then violently acted upon his intriguing interpretation of the law. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Speaker:         I’m not running away. Sir, get off me. Sir don’t grab… Sir, get off me. Get the [beep] off me!

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:         Even in a city like Baltimore where illegal arrests were literally official policy for many years, Newberg’s flagrant violation of the law caught the attention of prosecutors. In fact, a special unit in Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office, flagged the video and began reviewing additional arrests by Newberg. Prosecutors were particularly alarmed because, as you can see here, the arrest was brutal. Let’s watch.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Speaker 2:            I’m suing y’all, I’m suing y’all yo…. I’m simply recording [beep].

Officer Newberg:         The ground, sit on the ground now!

Speaker 2:                Man, you about to [crosstalk] –

Officer Newberg:     Get on the ground!

Speaker 2:                 What the [beep].

Officer Newberg:         Get on the ground!

Speaker:                    Get your knee off of me [crosstalk] –

Officer Newberg:        Get on the ground!

Speaker 2:           [crosstalk].

Speaker 3:               [crosstalk] and Ashton [crosstalk].

Speaker:              Yo, get off me yo.

Officer Newberg:        Get on the ground.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:          So Newberg was actually checking for warrants when a bystander commented that it wasn’t right to make someone sit on wet concrete, and then he continued to walk by. Newberg ran after him and put him in cuffs, and when the man then asked, what am I going to jail for? Newberg replied, because you don’t know how to act. The indictment says that when the bystander challenged Newberg’s authority to make the arrest, Newberg told him, just go to jail and take your charge like a man. Let’s run a little bit more of the footage so you can see for yourself Newberg’s unique take on the law.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Speaker:             [Beep] crazy, man.

Speaker 3:              Just need another unit or two.

Speaker:                  Y’all came… What the [beep] is you touching me for? I didn’t do nothing to you [beep]. The freedom of speech, [beep] y’all’s violating my amendments, yo. Y’all got me [beep] up, y’all don’t know who you’re [beep] with, yo, I swear y’all don’t. I’m suing [beep].

Speaker 3:          And a 10-14.

Speaker:                   They can’t lock me up [lip], I didn’t do nothing. He came and charged me, dropped me, kicked me all on the ground. Why you checking me? That [beep] is illegal.

Officer Newberg:          He’s under arrest, yes.

Speaker:                 For what? For what? What am I under arrest for?

Officer Newberg:       Just go to jail and take your charge like a man.

Speaker:               For what?

Officer Newberg:      Take your charge.

Speaker:             What am I going to jail for?

Officer Newberg:      Because you don’t know how to act.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Taya Graham:     But that’s not where the story ends, not at all. Because as prosecutors began reviewing six months of Newberg’s body cam footage, they unearthed even more crimes. A veritable documentary on the art of illegal arrest. And so, armed with extensive body camera evidence, prosecutors charged Newberg with a 32-count indictment including misconduct in office, false imprisonment, and second degree assault. Charging documents recount how Newberg arrested a FedEx driver for parking near his police vehicle and then called his boss to get him fired. Also how Newberg coaxed a man to come out of his house – Who was literally minding his own business – And then arrested him for no reason at all. It was a litany of bad behavior.

But it comes with a catch. That’s because the actual content of those videos remains a mystery, which will be the focus of our story today. Oddly, while the police department eagerly released the video related to the first charges against Newberg, it has yet to release the remaining body camera footage depicting the incidents which led to further charges against Newberg. And that lack of transparency comes as Maryland has recently passed more aggressive transparency laws that should make police records like Newberg’s body camera video public as soon as possible.

Which is why today we’re going to do what we call an accountability test. That is, test the law and efforts to make policing more transparent to see if cops are actually following it. To do so, we filed a Public Information Act request under the new law in Maryland called Anton’s Law, which we will explain later. Next, we traveled to our state capital, Annapolis, to find out if cops like Newberg are allowed to hide the evidence of their alleged criminal behavior despite a new law that requires prompt disclosure of just these types of records. Part of the reason this new law is so important is because it creates a balance of disclosure for cops that already exists for us.

Let’s remember, we just did a story on the small town of Milton, West Virginia, a city which likes to create Facebook posts recounting the crimes of suspects who’ve only been charged, not convicted of a crime. But strangely, when an officer there named Andy Lawhon was charged with domestic abuse, there was no mention of his alleged crime. Not a Facebook post or a press release. In fact, when we asked the chief of Milton police for comment, he didn’t respond at all. My point is police have no problem releasing mug shots and personal details about the alleged – Let me repeat – Alleged misdeeds of citizens, but when it comes to police malfeasance, they seem to behave like transparency is somehow an affront to due process and the right of the presumption of innocence. So that’s why we went to Annapolis, to see if Anton’s Law was having any appreciable effect on the disclosure of bad behavior by police.

Just a note on Anton’s Law. It was passed after the death of Anton Black, a 19-year-old track star who was killed by police in September of 2018 during an arrest over a kidnapping that turned out to be false. For months after Anton died, police and state investigators refused to release any details about what had happened, including the body camera footage. And just a note for those who want to watch our full reporting on the case, we’ll post some links in the comment section below.

But it turned out that one of those cops was hiding something. His name is Thomas Webster. And it turns out Webster had failed to disclose a long history of use of force complaints from a former job he held in Delaware when he applied for certification in Maryland. That revelation led to charges against the former chief of the Greensboro Police Department on Maryland’s Lower Eastern Shore where Anton died. But it also prompted legislatures to ensure that when the people’s rights have been violated, cops couldn’t hide the truth.

So like I already said, we decided to test the law itself, and the Baltimore Police Department, and to see if it lived up to its expectations. Since the law was passed, there have been a series of reports revealing that police departments across the state were charging exorbitant fees or simply stonewalling when the public requested records were related to criminal actions by officers. In fact, the ACLU of Maryland recently sent out a press release calling on authorities in Calvert County to stop charging excessive fees for public information. But we also wanted to see just how impervious to transparency police can be. So we asked state Senator Jill Carter, a tireless advocate for police reform and one of the sponsors of the original transparency bill, to join us in our request. So with her support, as I said, we filed a Public Information Act request with the Baltimore City Police Department, requesting six months of body camera footage depicting Newberg’s other arrests.

This body camera footage would contain at least nine incidents that are considered misconduct or just plain criminal. That’s because we believe that just like the endless parades of mug shots and description of crimes, the alleged crimes of police should also be fully disclosed to the public. I mean, bear in mind Newberg has been charged with 32 counts of misconduct in office, false imprisonment, and second degree assault. So even though his trial is still pending, shouldn’t the police department share the evidence with the public rather than conceal it behind closed doors? Those are the questions we set out to answer. And for more on the process, I’m joined by my reporting partner Stephen Janis who’s been working on the story. Stephen, thank you so much for joining me.

Stephen Janis:     Taya, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:         So Stephen, first tell me a little bit about Anton’s Law, why legislatures are concerned about it and how police are handling it, and also what are the requirements of this law?

Stephen Janis:    Well, the law was supposed to prevent situations like Anton’s, where a family wouldn’t know for five or six months after a police-involved incident anything about the officer, like for example if there were complaints against them. So it’s supposed to make this transparent and this process pretty quick. You ask for the records of an officer, you get them quickly. But that’s not what’s happened. A lot of departments have thrown up huge exorbitant fees or dragged their feet, so it’s not working out as it should. The point was to give immediate transparency in incidents where officers’ actions were questioned, and that’s not the way it’s working out.

Taya Graham:        And we filed a Public Information Act request for the remaining body camera footage of Ethan Newberg. What has been the response so far?

Stephen Janis:         Well, right now we’ve got confirmation from the Baltimore Police Department that they have received it and they’re processing it. They said we would hear back from them within 10 business days to know whether we will get the information or not, so it is proceeding as you would expect. We’ll just have to wait and see what the final answer is. As we have stated before in the show, he is facing a trial, so sometimes they don’t release evidence before the trial. But we think this evidence should be out there in the public prior to the trial because this trial could go on for years. They could have continuances, a number of things could happen. But I think it’s expediency is what this law is about, and expediency is what we expect.

Taya Graham:      Now out while you were in Annapolis you spoke to state senator Jill Carter about her concerns and her new revision to the law to prevent exorbitant fees. What did she have to say?

Stephen Janis:       Well, yes, we sat down with state senator Jill Carter to ask her specifically what she wanted to change to the law, and basically some of her concerns about holding police accountable. Let’s listen.

[VIDEO CLIP BEGINS]

Sen. Jill Carter:     So first of all, all of the law enforcement agencies were kicking and screaming when we were passing Anton’s Law, saying the floodgates are going to open and no one’s going to want to be a police officer, and they’ll be humiliated and retaliated against. Which of course is not proven to be true here or anywhere. But what we did learn, all of us, from different news reports, is that agencies were finding ways to evade the law. They were either not complying, giving generalized against the public interest excuses to not release the information, or charging exorbitant fees. And so this bill is just one little step in the direction to try to ensure that the police agencies comply with the law and that people are able to get the records they ask for, that they’re entitled to have, and not have to pay exorbitant fees. Especially when some people, many people, can’t pay exorbitant fees.

Stephen Janis:      Why is this important to you and why do you think it’s important to the people, your constituents?

Sen. Jill Carter:       So we’re never really going to have police accountability and transparency as long as they are shrouded in secrecy and investigate themselves, discipline themselves, and then keep their records secret. So the public is entitled to have access to the records, they police the public, they work for the people. These are all allegations of… Misconduct allegations are about how they’ve treated people that they’re supposed to protect and serve, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have that information freely.

[VIDEO CLIP ENDS]

Stephen Janis:    So as you can see, she’s being responsive and trying to change his law. and she has also, as we said, joined us in our request for this video. So we’ll see what happens, but I hope we get it. If we do, believe me, we will show it.

Taya Graham:         Now, one facet of Ethan Newberg’s case that we’ve yet to mention is the amount of money he was making while he was committing his alleged crimes. It is a stunning figure that should dispel any doubts you have between financial incentives and bad policing that we discuss so often on this show. That’s because Newberg was making roughly $260,000.00 a year prior to being charged with the several dozen crimes tied to his illegal arrest. That’s a quarter million dollars a year. That’s right, the former cop now faces multiple charges of destroying people’s lives over fake arrests was actually part of the top 5% of the highest paid people in the country. In fact, the average salary of a police officer in the US is roughly $52,000.00 a year according to Indeed.com.

So it is clear, Newberg was indeed doing something particularly special to earn his exorbitant salary, and another critical reason all of his body camera footage should be released now. Bear in mind, if prosecutors hadn’t caught him on camera and followed up with requests for more footage, it’s more than likely he would’ve gotten away with falsely imprisoning half a dozen residents and continued to earn his lucrative salary. If the state’s attorney’s office hadn’t been diligent, his alleged crimes might have been buried in a bureaucratic maze constructed around the notion of hiding information, not releasing it.

But it’s the salary I think we need to focus on now and how it affects the aforementioned bureaucracy. How it, in a sense, creates officers like Newberg and builds a political economy to protect them from public scrutiny. That’s because there could be more Newbergs out there earning salaries that they do not deserve, and we will never know. That’s because despite the fact that Baltimore city taxpayers paid for an audit of overtime, the results have never been fully released. Even though the preliminary results from the audit found huge gaps in oversight, lapses in controls, and probable abuse, the audit still remains secret. But why? Because the city’s police union had sued the city, making the argument – And I’m not kidding – Police in Baltimore actually had been cheated out of overtime by the city. And the city in turn designated the audit as an attorney-client work product, which they argued made it secret. I’m really not kidding.

Andre Davis:        The people working on the audit are working under the direction and supervision of attorneys, so I can’t say anything more.

Taya Graham:          I’m really not kidding. An audit paid for by the taxpayers which found probable fraud was made secret by the same employees paid by the taxpayers. Making matters worse, the audit was seeking to find fraud and abuse by police employees paid for by the same taxpayers. How is that for circular reasoning? And this all happened after one of the most corrupt police gangs in the history of our city, and perhaps the country, had been charged with, among other crimes, stealing overtime. Both Stephen and I sat in the trial for several of the officers from the notorious gun trace task force, roughly nine officers charged in 2017 with robbing residents, dealing drugs, and, of course, overtime fraud. One of the things we learned during the testimony was a direct correlation between false arrest and extra cash. That is because officers on the stand revealed that if they seized a gun during their regular eight hour shift, they received eight hours of overtime without having to work.

That’s right. Eight hours of pay at roughly $100.00 an hour to sit home and drink beer provided they arrest someone for gun possession. And what’s most alarming about this fraudulent pay is that the excess cash in part finds its way back to the union, which has subsequently filed a bogus lawsuit against the city to argue taxpayers are actually underpaying cops. A political economy that actually prevented the release of the audit and substantially hampered government transparency. And just a side note, you can imagine an extra $800.00 on a day off might be an incentive to plant a gun on a suspect, which is something these officers have also been accused of doing. And just to show you how bad it really is and how much police benefit from the system, I want to share a little tidbit from the Facebook post by Baltimore’s police union shortly after Newberg was arrested. As you can see, it says that Newberg didn’t have to post bail, just promise to pay it if he didn’t appear.

In other words, he did not go to a bail bondsman and pay what for most of us would’ve been $40,000 to get out of jail, he didn’t have to go through the risk of putting up his house or other assets, he just had to say he would agree to show up. It sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it? Too bad it’s not available to all of us. And what’s funny about this is that the most vocal opponents of bail reform are usually police departments and police unions. They are constantly fanning the flames of fear and speaking out against any reform that would make it easier for people to bail out of jail prior to trial. Remember, being forced to serve time in prison before your trial has been adjudicated violates the notion of the presumption of innocence in the most destructive way possible. The real purpose behind bail reform is to make sure that people have a right to defend themselves from a position of freedom and not under the duress of being in a cage.

What makes Newberg’s treatment so alarming is that it is a right not afforded to the rest of us. I mean, I have literally witnessed police officers accused of shooting a man in the back get out on his own recognizance prior to trial. So why should this case of a millionaire police officer matter to you? Well, I think this case should be important to you because more and more, there are laws being passed in your states that are supposed to protect the public, reform policing, and increase transparency. But are these pieces of legislation being watered down or out and out ignored? Are these reforms really working, really serving you? You have the right to know, and you have the right to hold your leaders accountable if they don’t.

That’s why transparency and accountability is so important. It’s not about being pro or anti-police or defunding or funding the police, but rather it’s about the process of holding any institution with immense power to the same laws and expectations as the rest of us. It’s about ensuring the government doesn’t exceed the boundaries of power and abuse it to the point where the foundation of democracy is threatened. And most of all, it’s why there should never be a specific class of people, in this case cops, with the ability to take our freedom, both literally and financially, that are not truly accountable to anyone. That’s why we will continue to follow the story and to let you know if we get this body camera footage, and that’s why we won’t stop until we do.

I want to thank Sen. Jill Carter for taking the time to speak with us, thank you, Senator Carter. And of course, I want to thank Intrepid Reporter, Stephen Janis, for his writing, research, and editing on this piece. Thank you, Stephen

Stephen Janis:     Taya, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Taya Graham:      And I want to thank friend of the show Noli Dee, for her support. Thanks Noli Dee. And a very special thank you to our Patreons, we appreciate you. And I want you watching to know that if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us and we might be able to investigate for you. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at par@therealnews.com and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice on Twitter, and of course you can always message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter or Facebook. And please like and comment. I do read your comments and you know I appreciate them. And we have a Patreon link pinned in the comments below, so if you feel inspired to donate, please do. We do not run ads or take corporate dollars, so anything you can spare really is greatly appreciated. My name is Taya Graham, and I am your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please be safe out there.

Taya Graham

Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns. Follow her on Twitter.

Stephen Janis

Host & Producer
Stephen Janis is an award winning investigative reporter turned documentary filmmaker. His first feature film, The Friendliest Town was distributed by Gravitas Ventures and won an award of distinction from The Impact Doc Film Festival, and a humanitarian award from The Indie Film Fest. He is the co-host and creator of The Police Accountability Report on The Real News Network, which has received more than 10,000,000 views on YouTube. His work as a reporter has been featured on a variety of national shows including the Netflix reboot of Unsolved Mysteries, Dead of Night on Investigation Discovery Channel, Relentless on NBC, and Sins of the City on TV One.

He has co-authored several books on policing, corruption, and the root causes of violence including Why Do We Kill: The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore and You Can’t Stop Murder: Truths about Policing in Baltimore and Beyond. He is also the co-host of the true crime podcast Land of the Unsolved. Prior to joining The Real News, Janis won three Capital Emmys for investigative series working as an investigative producer for WBFF. Follow him on Twitter.