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A police officer driving a squad car with a shattered window has blood on his arm on April 27 during the riots on North avenue. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Police: Injuries from riots caused by lack of gear, poor tactics

More than 160 workers' comp claims filed by police, staff

The injured Baltimore city police officer still doesn’t know if it was a brick or cinder block that hit him April 27 as he worked near Pennsylvania and North avenues, the epicenter of the rioting following Freddie Gray’s funeral.

But since suffering a concussion that day, he has had back pain and problems sleeping along with frequent headaches and bouts of nausea. He cannot sit too long at his desk job before he needs to stretch. One doctor has diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The officer is one more than 160 police and staff who have filed workers’ compensation claims for injuries suffered in the riots. But the officer and lawyers handling the cases say what angers claimants is the belief their injuries could have been prevented had they been better equipped and allowed to engage protesters both that day and April 25, when police and protestors met at Camden Yards.

Attorney Warren S. Alperstein, standing in front of a Baltimore City Police car. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Attorney Warren S. Alperstein, standing in front of a Baltimore City Police car. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

“What’s so disheartening for police officers is after we saw what happened on the 25th, there was no question at that point the city was on notice that the situation had escalated,” said Warren S. Alperstein, who is representing dozens of officers in their claims. “To not properly equip these officers with the protection they needed is beyond comprehension.”

Alperstein, of Alperstein & Diener P.A. in Baltimore, said officers were told not to wear black gloves or riot helmets at protest sites nor act “intimidating.” Jeffrey S. Stavisky, who is representing two dozen officers who filed claims, said officers were only equipped with helmets and sticks.

“They don’t feel like they were protected properly or allowed to handle the situation properly,” said Stavisky, of Ezrine, Castro & Stavisky P.A. in Baltimore. “For the most part, they were just standing there.”

Representatives from the Baltimore Police Department did not respond to requests to comment about the allegations.

Request for records

The local Fraternal Order of Police is conducting an after-action review of the response to the rioting and has asked for all police command communications during that time as well as interactions with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration.

The injured officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media, said he was told to leave his riot gear in his car before going to Mondawmin Mall because police were only expecting 100 students to be there. Instead, he arrived in an unmarked police car trailing a paddy wagon whose windows were smashed by protesters also throwing bricks at officers.

He and his colleagues relied on shields carried by Anne Arundel County police officers for cover, he continued. At one point, he saw a thrown rock bounce off the ground and strike a female officer in the face, knocking her out.

“Everything going through our heads is, ‘Are we going to do something?’” the officer asked. “I had to give my jacket to a lieutenant because they [the crowd] were pointing out people in white shirts and throwing bricks at them.”

An uninjured officer who also was at Mondawmin said high-ranking officials wanted to deploy gas to disperse the crowds but could not because the officers did not have gas masks. Officers also were told they could shoot pepper balls but only at protesters’ feet, which went against their training to shoot at the center of a target, he said.

“It was chaos,” said the officer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity because is not authorized to talk to the media. “It was basically us looking in the air and letting a neighboring officer know, ‘Hey, there’s a rock coming.’”

The injured officer said he blacked out after being struck in the head but then got up and continued to work, he said. He eventually made it over to a check-cashing store in a safer area and vomited several times, at which point he was taken to Shock Trauma, he said.

Unreported injuries

Alperstein and Stavisky said their clients’ injuries range from bruises to concussions. Most of Stavisky’s clients are already back at work, and many refused to “leave the line.”

“A lot of them wanted to support their brothers and sisters,” he said.

The uninjured officer, who also was on the scene at Pennsylvania and North avenues, said that if 160 officers filed workers’ compensation claims, then “200 people” have not reported their injuries at all.

“A lot of people go back because they feel if they don’t go back, they’re letting their fellow officers down,” he said.

Both officers said the violence of April 27 could have been avoided if police had been allowed to engage two nights earlier. But the uninjured officer said Commissioner Anthony W. Batts instead told officers that night to “smile and take it.”

“We could have made our arrests and got our point across,” said the uninjured officer, adding such action could have led to a scene more akin to Cleveland last month after an officer was acquitted on charges of shooting two unarmed people after a 2012 car chase.

Added the injured officer:  “If it was nipped in the bud that day, just enforcing the law, people would have thought twice about coming out Monday.”

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