A Baltimore Police Department sergeant who already had one misconduct lawsuit pending against him was sued again Thursday — this time for allegedly using Hollywood-style intimidation tactics to threaten Baltimore resident Mark C. Harrell.
Harrell and Roslyn Wiggins say that on Sept. 13, 2010, Sgt. Joseph M. Donato and an unidentified officer entered their home on Robert Street uninvited, “violently and forcefully pushing and kicking in the front door,” according to their complaint. The officers handcuffed Harrell, and when he asked what he was being charged with, Harrell was told, “We’ll think of something.”
According to the complaint, Donato and his partner had no search warrant and no arrest warrant but kept Harrell at the police station for the next 24 hours. The pair is also accused of falsifying statements in order to charge Harrell with disorderly conduct and loitering in a public place — charges that were dropped the next day.
The complaint states that on Sept. 16, 2010, Harrell had another confrontation with Donato and his unidentified partner while hanging out with a friend on McCulloh Street.
The officers forced the two men into the back of their police cruiser, where Harrell claims Donato told him it was “time to kick it up a notch.” Harrell said Donato then held out his hand, and said he was holding drugs that he was going to use to frame Harrell for murder.
Harrell has a history of drug-related arrests. Police have filed drug charges against him at least 14 times since 1998, according to state judicial records. He has never been charged with a violent crime.
According to Harrell’s complaint, the two officers spent the next several minutes in the squad car trying to “threaten and coerce” Harrell into confessing to a crime he did not commit. Harrell refused, and they released him without filing any charges.
Two weeks after Donato’s alleged run-ins with Harrell, the sergeant was served with a lawsuit stemming from a wholly separate April 2010 incident.
Walter Carpenter, a local plumber, filed a $2.5 million suit against Donato and Officer Ryan W. Hill, claiming they roughed him up and confiscated his cell phone after he filmed them making an arrest on Baker Street.
Carpenter’s complaint stated that when Donato noticed him filming the arrest, Donato approached Carpenter and demanded that he hand over his phone. When Carpenter refused, Donato threatened to shoot him with a Taser and then, according to his complaint, Carpenter was “slammed faced down into the pavement causing his head to bounce off the sidewalk.”
Carpenter said that his cell phone — and the recording of the incident it held — was never returned to him. He was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, but the charges were later dropped.
Carpenter’s lawsuit is still pending, with a pretrial conference scheduled for Wednesday.
Baltimore Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment on either of the lawsuits against Donato, per department policy on pending litigation.
Solo practitioner Rhonda Framm, who is representing Harrell, could not be reached for comment on Monday.