Baltimore police officer Robert W. Mitchell faces a second-degree assault charge after police and prosecutors accused him of overstepping his powers and beating a young man more than a year ago.
The Baltimore state's attorney's office also charged Mitchell on Friday with two counts of misconduct in office. Prosecutors allege that Mitchell beat Baltimore resident Tiyon Williams in the 1000 block of N. Mount St. on May 19, 2012.
"The allegations against Mr. Mitchell are reprehensible," Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said in a statement, "and I promise we will continue to aggressively target those who sacrilege the good men and women of this department and the sacred privilege of serving our community."
Police declined to release any details about the case or incident, saying they could not compromise either the criminal case or internal investigation underway against Mitchell.
Williams could not be reached Friday, but last May he told WBFF Fox 45 news that he was walking out of a neighborhood corner store when police grabbed his friend. He said he started to run and was thrown onto some steps. He said he surrendered and put his arms up but was beaten anyway.
"I ran because my homeboy got slammed on his neck. Anybody else would do the same," Williams told the station in an on-camera interview.
He said he was dropped off at the hospital by the officers. He received a dozen stitches and had a broken nose. Williams has no criminal record listed in Maryland court records, and the television story displayed his visible injuries, which included a bloody nose and a large wound that circled his left eye and extended from his eyebrow down to his cheek.
The television news piece was picked up by the popular WorldStarHipHop website, where it had been viewed 150,000 times by Friday evening.
Mitchell, 43, worked out of a Western District Patrol unit. A Baltimore police officer since Oct. 11, 2001, he has been suspended with pay since last May, when a resident's complaint about the beating initiated the criminal and administrative investigations, police said.
The criminal charges come a week after state police charged Baltimore police officer Lamin Manneh, 31, with prostituting his wife after officers from a human-trafficking task force found him outside a hotel room where the woman had agreed to have sex for cash with an undercover state police officer.
Mitchell's charging also comes on the heels of a six-hour standoff between police and one of their own officers. On May 7, police said, veteran Baltimore officer James Smith shot and killed his girlfriend, who was standing with colleagues investigating a reported domestic dispute at the house they shared. Smith then barricaded himself in his home with his 4-year-old son before surrendering without incident.
In April, police saw the lead detective in the high-profile disappearance of North Carolina teenager Phylicia Barnes charged with committing assault and burglary during a frantic search last year for his own daughter. They also acknowledged in April that four Baltimore police officers have been suspended as part of an investigation stemming from the federal conviction of an officer for conspiring with a drug informant to orchestrate arrests, according to sources with knowledge of the case.
"In the last few weeks, we have had some troubling incidents here," said Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who oversees the Bureau of Professional Standards, which includes Internal Affairs. But he said Mitchell's arrest reaffirms the department's commitment to "root out corruption."
Under Maryland law, the difference between first- and second-degree assault is that "substantial risk of death" or permanent impairment is required to warrant a first-degree charge.
A Baltimore police spokesman did not know if Mitchell had retained a lawyer, and his case was not listed in Maryland's court record database Friday.
Robert F. Cherry, police union president, has not reviewed Mitchell's case but said the officer has a good reputation.
"From what we've heard, he's a good officer," Cherry said, "and until the facts prove otherwise, we're prepared to defend our own."
Cherry said he is worried that prosecutors have been moving too aggressively to prosecute excessive-force cases that may be more ambiguous than black or white when officers are on duty and in dangerous situations. If an officer "goes over the line," Cherry said, an internal review process is already set up to dole out severe punishments, from demotions to firings.
Police cannot do their jobs that require them "to put hands on" violent suspects in a violent city like Baltimore if they're afraid of prosecution, he said.