A federal jury acquitted a Maryland correctional officer Friday of violating the civil rights of a state prison inmate who was severely beaten by other officers in 2008.
The jurors convicted Sgt. Josh Hummer of lying to state police initially about what he saw — a falsehood he acknowledged on the witness stand — even though they weren’t convinced that he witnessed the beating of Kenneth Davis.
The jury deadlocked on two other charges against Hummer: conspiring to cover up the beating and lying to a state administrative law judge. Prosecutors have until Tuesday to decide whether to retry him on those counts.
The verdict largely favored the defense, even though the count on which Hummer was convicted carries a potentially stiff maximum sentence of 20 years.
Defense attorney Clarke Ahlers said Hummer did the right thing by voluntarily correcting his statement to police several days after making a false statement. In neither statement did he acknowledge having seen other officers pummel and kick Davis as punishment for allegedly punching a guard.
“It appears that the jury paid close attention to the evidence, and my hope is that other people in Josh’s position will do what Josh did, which is make amends after acknowledging he did something wrong,” Ahlers said.
Lead prosecutor Forrest Christian declined to comment after the verdict.
Twelve former officers have pleaded guilty to federal charges and two to state charges stemming from Davis’ beating at Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown. Two more defendants are scheduled for trial in U.S. District Court Feb. 10
The jury deliberated about 14 hours over three days. Jury foreman Don Smith, of Millersville, said the panel couldn’t convict on the civil-rights and conspiracy charges because most of the prosecution witnesses were convicted officers with a history of deceitfulness.
“Everybody who testified basically was a proven liar,” Smith said.
Christian told the jury in his closing argument Wednesday that it was “the Roxbury way” for officers on three consecutive shifts to beat any inmate who hit a guard, and to cover for each other.
Hummer’s was the first trial stemming from federal indictments of 15 officers on charges they conspired to illegally punish Davis for bloodying a guard’s nose in a scuffle, and then covered up the assault at Roxbury Correctional Institution near Hagerstown. Hummer was accused of failing to stop five officers from beating Davis, failing to get him medical help and conspiring in a cover-up in which another officer admittedly destroyed incriminating surveillance video.
Hummer, 40, of Chambersburg, Pa., maintained he didn’t see the beating that left Davis with a broken nose, back and ribs. He acknowledged on the witness stand that he initially told investigators Davis’ cell door was closed when he walked by looking for a pair of gloves. He changed his account four days later, telling a detective that all he saw through the open cell door was an officer squatting down to talk to Davis as the inmate lay beneath his bunk with his face to the wall.
Davis, 47, of Baltimore, was serving a 19-year sentence for robbery when he was assaulted. He was released in October 2012. He didn’t testify at the trial, which began Jan. 22.
Federal prosecutors said in a filing that Davis received about $100,000 to settle his administrative complaint against the state. Attorney Michael McGowan, who represented Davis in those proceedings, said the episode highlighted a systemic problem at the prison.
“The conspiracy is mind-boggling. To think that they were able to hide this on all levels for as long as they did is just unbelievable,” McGowan said.
Hummer was suspended without pay after he was indicted in February. He said in an interview Thursday before the verdict that he was getting “railroaded” by prosecutors and former co-workers who resented him for testifying against them in earlier proceedings.
The former SWAT team member and defensive-tactics instructor was cited by the state corrections commissioner in 2007 for helping halt the attempted escape from a Howard County courtroom of prisoner Brandon Morris, who had murdered Hummer’s friend and co-worker Jeffery Wroten.
“I feel like what’s being done to me is absolutely unjust,” Hummer said before the verdict.
Nine Roxbury officers, not including Hummer, were charged in state court in 2009 with assaulting Davis. Just two were convicted after taking plea deals and defying what one called “the brotherhood of silence” to testify against co-workers. Five were acquitted, one had charges dropped before trial and one had charges dropped after his trial ended in a hung jury.