03/06/2001

Conflicting testimony marks assault trial of city police officer

Rawlins accused of using excessive force in July arrest

The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore, Md -- The trial of Officer Clyde Rawlins Jr. centered on several issues yesterday, including whether Rawlins pulled a clump of hair from the man he is accused of assaulting and whether obscenities shouted by the man caused a crowd to gather on Argyle Avenue in July.

The answers varied depending on who was asked.

Rawlins, 25, is on trial on charges of assault, perjury and misconduct in office. If convicted, he could be sent to prison for up to 20 years, said Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Ritter, who is prosecuting the case. Because misconduct in office is a common-law offense, there is no statutory penalty.

Rawlins is accused of using excessive force July 9 while attempting to arrest Larry Nathaniel, 19, who lives in the 1400 block of Argyle Ave. in West Baltimore.

Defense attorneys Kim Alley and Michael Belsky acknowledge that Nathaniel suffered a black eye last July, but they maintain their client didn't use excessive force against him.

The incident occurred as Rawlins and Detective Ray Hunter were patrolling the 1400 block of Argyle Ave., an area known for illegal drug activity. Rawlins and Hunter said they saw Sean Washington make a throwing motion. Suspecting that he had discarded illegal drugs, Hunter asked Washington to walk to the patrol car.

Nathaniel has testified that he shouted obscenities at the police as Washington was walking to the patrol car. Nathaniel and Rawlins exchanged words, a scuffle ensued, and eventually Nathaniel was arrested.

Nathaniel and several state's witnesses - including Washington, his sister, Deana Washington and their mother - testified this week that Rawlins pulled a clump of hair from Nathaniel's head.

Lt. Steven Lukasik, who went to the scene after a 911 call was placed from the Argyle Avenue rowhouse where Nathaniel was living, testified that he searched the area around the rowhouse but found no clump of hair.

He also testified that he interviewed Nathaniel at Mercy Medical Center, where he was taken after being arrested to receive medical attention for his injured left eye. "At any time did he tell you that Officer Rawlins pulled out a clump of his hair?" asked Belsky. "No," Lukasik replied.

Before Lukasik testified, defense attorneys asked Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal, saying the state's evidence was insufficient to go forward with the trial. Murdock denied the motion.

Defense attorneys tried to establish that Nathaniel's obscenities caused a crowd to gather on Argyle Avenue. Internal Affairs Detective Barbara Price testified that Hunter, the officer with Rawlins that day, didn't mention a crowd to her in an interview.

The charges against Nathaniel - disorderly conduct and resisting arrest - were dropped.

Copyright 2001 The Baltimore Sun Company All Rights Reserved

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