FBI to investigate student beatings at UM
Multiple officers expected to be disciplined
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This story was corrected on April 13, 2010, at 6 p.m. and updated at 3:45 p.m. April 14. An explanation of the correction follows the story.
The beating of a University of Maryland, College Park, student by Prince George's County police has spurred an investigation by the FBI and is expected to result in the suspension of more officers.
Video of three officers beating student John "Jack" McKenna III, 21, of Kensington was released by his attorney Monday. On the video, McKenna is shown being beaten March 3 during a street celebration after the Maryland men's basketball team defeated rival Duke University. Thirty-six people were arrested that night and, as a result, both the police department and FBI are reviewing whether "excessive force" incidents occurred.
"Certainly this particular instance with the video, we are looking at that as a base line," said FBI Special Agent Richard Wolf, a spokesman for the bureau's Baltimore office. "We're looking to see if there are any federal or criminal offenses that occurred, and we will pass that on to the Department of Justice."
As of Wednesday morning, one county police officer had been suspended from duty, county police spokesman Maj. Andrew Ellis said. He added he expected at least one additional officer to be suspended by Wednesday night. The suspended officer has not been identified.
In Prince George's County District Court documents, Cpl. R. Redden and officers J. Martinez and Dobro are listed as witnesses to the arrests of McKenna and fellow student Benjamin Donat, 19, of Brookline, N.H. McKenna and Donat were charged with assaulting Maryland-National Capital Park police officers and their horses while celebrating after the basketball game. Prosecutors dropped charges against both men because "the evidence was insufficient," said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Prince George's County state's attorney's office.
Ellis would not confirm if the department had spoken with the officers listed in the court documents about the incident, but said the officers would be interviewed.
"I don't know what role they played, but certainly if they were involved with striking the student they would be suspended," he said.
The video shows McKenna skipping toward police officers on horseback and, as he starts to back away, being beaten by three officers in riot gear with batons. Donat was beaten about a block away by officers in a separate incident, said Sharon Weidenfeld, a private investigator working with the attorney representing the two students.
"Ben and John did not know each other; they were nowhere near each other," she said.
Donat and McKenna suffered concussions, bruises and contusions to the body in separate beatings by police, Weidenfeld said.
She expects a civil suit to be filed on behalf of both men against the police department.
Charging documents filed by county police contradict what is shown in the video. Charging documents filed by Officer S. McAleavey state McKenna and Donat struck two park police officers and their horses. The documents also say the students sustained minor injuries when they were kicked by the horses.
"[The charging documents were] a total fabrication, and it was part of a cover up by the police department," Weidenfeld said.
Ellis declined to discuss McAleavey's involvement in the case.
About 1,500 people, mostly students, were celebrating the Maryland win along Route 1 in downtown College Park that night, police said. In the past, the Duke matchup has resulted in post-game celebrations that police have struggled to contain. County, university and park police were sent to disperse the crowd.
The Prince George's County state's attorney's office also plans to look into the use of excessive force by police.
"Once the initial [police] investigation is completed, we will present this matter to the grand jury and decide how to move forward from there," State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said in a statement.
Police Chief Roberto Hylton, flanked by the police department's command staff, held a press conference Tuesday and said the case was an "isolated incident."
"We are a professional police department, and we are not going tolerate any inappropriate actions by our officers," he said.
Hylton asked for anyone with video from the night of the incident to share it with police.
John "Jim" McKenna, a retired Montgomery County Circuit Court judge and grandfather of Jack McKenna, said he hopes the officers involved get jail time.
"Jack was in seventh heaven. They had just beaten Duke. You can see he was dancing along the street. ... They were being joyous about it, and they had every right to be," he said. "[Jack] was trying to back up, and they beat the hell out of him. The guys that beat him should be indicted and made to stand trial in the criminal court and should go to jail."
Growing up in a family of lawyers and judges, Jim McKenna said his grandson always had been taught to respect police officers. He said the entire incident has left Jack McKenna emotionally and physically scarred.
The incident comes about one year after federal oversight of the Prince George's County Police Department ended. The U.S. Department of Justice had monitored county police progress for six years, requiring that departmental changes were made as a result of previous complaints about police brutality.
In March, the county reportedly settled a lawsuit for $125,000 filed by a man who was beaten by county police in 2008. Rafael Rodriguez was arrested for assaulting police after he was stopped in College Park. Police cruiser video of the incident showed Rodriguez being beaten by the officers but did not show Rodriguez hitting the officers. The charges against Rodriguez were dropped.
E-mail Andrea Noble at email@example.com.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Donat's name; it was spelled Domat in the charging documents.