Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley seemed caught off guard in a radio interview on Monday when asked to comment on the apparent police beating of an unarmed University of Maryland student that has drawn international attention and led to a civil rights probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In his monthly appearance on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program, O'Malley stopped short of condemning the beating in similarly tough terms used by Prince George's Police Chief Roberto Hylton or State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey. After a video of the March 3 altercation surfaced last week, Hylton said he was "outraged and disappointed." Ivey vowed to take officers before a grand jury, saying "excessive force will not be tolerated." When asked by WTOP host Mark Segraves, O'Malley repeated Segraves' description of the beating as "a very serious matter" and said that although he has not discussed the matter with Prince George's officials, he thought county leaders were responding appropriately.
O'Malley, however, then went on to say that "very few of us were actually there, on the scene" and because of that and other improvements made to Prince George's long troubled police department "we owe it to that good work to conduct this investigation [into officers' conduct] fairly and properly and following due process." A tape released last week shows three Prince George's County police officers in riot gear using their batons to beat John J. McKenna, 21, following a University of Maryland-Duke basketball game on March. 3.
The video shows McKenna skipping along a sidewalk before he stops in front of a phalanx of officers on horseback. As he stood there, two Prince George's officers ran and attacked him. A third officer later joined the beating. McKenna required eight staples to close a gash on his scalp. An initial police report appeared to be falsified, saying McKenna was injured by horses. The FBI is investigating and four Prince George's officers have been relieved of police powers while they remain under investigation.
When asked about the incident at the beginning of the program, O'Malley initially tried to steer the interview to recent positive news for the state.
"You don't want to start with the fact that Maryland led all states in job creation for the month of March? You don't want to talk about the rebound of the blue crab?" O'Malley said.
Later, O'Malley said, "So long as we have human beings who do these difficult jobs, and indeed human beings in any profession, there will always be times that call upon us to investigate, and where necessary, act, in order to address behavior that is outside of what is expected." O'Malley, who will likely face former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. in a November rematch for a second term as Maryland's governor, won four years ago in part on a reputation as a tough on crime Baltimore mayor. In 2006, the state's largest law enforcement union backed Ehrlich.
Asked in an e-mail following the radio interview if O'Malley shares Hylton's reaction of "outraged and disappointed" to the beating video, O'Malley press secretary Shaun Adamec said, "It's obviously very disturbing, and the governor has said as much. I think it's appropriate to stick with the words the governor has used to describe his feelings on the matter." In that spirit, here's the transcript of the governor's full response:
Mark Segraves: "...Let's talk about this video, you must have seen it by now. It's a very serious matter. And to make sure our listeners are up to speed, it shows several Prince George's County officers beating an unarmed University of Maryland student. The initial police report that was filed said the student was injured by horses. We now know from seeing that video that's not the case, several officers have been suspended. There's an investigation, in fact a federal investigation. Your thoughts now?"
O'Malley: "My thoughts are that this is a very serious matter and it's one that's being taken seriously by not only the chief of police for Prince George's County but also by the county executive. So long as we have human beings who do these difficult jobs, and indeed human beings in any profession, there will always be times that call upon us to investigate, and where necessary, act, in order to address behavior that is outside of what is expected.
And so, this is a very serious matter. Everybody, I mean, lots of people have seen the video. Very few of us were actually there, on the scene. But I'm sure this matter will receive the attention that it deserves from the chief of police of Prince George's County. And I think that, um, you know, part of the responsibility that we have in any police force is to not only police the streets, but to police our own force when necessary.
I'm very proud of the strides Prince Georges' County has made in violent crime reduction and their reduction of auto thefts. And we owe it to that good work to conduct this investigation fairly and properly and following due process, because the most important thing that protects officers on the street is the trust the public has in their integrity." SOURCE: Washington Post and Associated Press