BALTIMORE (AP) — Two officers who police Baltimore’s public schools walked out of jail Wednesday pending trial for assault and misconduct after their violent confrontation with a student was recorded by another teenager.
Both have checkered records, prompting parents and authorities alike to question whether enough is being done to prevent violent people from being hired to keep schoolchildren peaceful and safe.
Police said Wednesday that Saverna Bias allegedly told her fellow officer, Anthony Spence, to use force against the teen. According to a witness, she said, “You need to smack him because he’s got too much mouth,” police said. The video shows Spence shouting profanities as he repeatedly slaps and kicks the boy, telling him to leave the school and go home.
Spence was not trying to arrest the 10th grader, neither was he acting in reasonable self-defense, city police said.
At a packed school board meeting Tuesday night, some parents and principals implored officials to keep officers in the schools for everyone’s safety. Students and their advocates countered that having armed police with insufficient oversight in schools can be damaging and dangerous.
Tim Martin, an administrator at the New Hope Academy, said he understands the frustration, but believes most officers show enough patience to “therapeutically de-escalate students in crisis and help school personnel maintain a safe school environment.”
Students from the activist group City Bloc also spoke up, saying that school police officers can make some students feel unsafe, threatening them with the message that “the world sees them as inherently violent and incapable of success.”
“We are not enemies or punching bags,” a City College student said, reading the City Bloc statement.
“Students shouldn’t be criminalized. We need to learn in an environment where we don’t feel threatened by school police officers. This kind of brutalization of students shouldn’t ever be tolerated. Students at every school should be treated with respect, and as humans who sometimes make mistakes, not as people who deserve to be thrown into prison or assaulted,” the statement said.
Spence, 44, and Bias, 53, turned themselves in Tuesday night and were released on bond on charges of second-degree assault and misconduct in office. Spence also is charged with second-degree child abuse. Both officers have been suspended, and Spence is being denied pay, since he faces a felony.
Baltimore School Police Chief Marshall Goodwin, whose department is separate from the city’s police force, also went on leave, for “personal reasons,” as the video began circulating a day after the March 1 confrontation. A week later, as city police and prosecutors continue investigating, Baltimore City Schools CEO Gregory Thornton has refused to explain his absence.
The criminal case is now in the hands of the public integrity unit of the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office. The school police department also is conducting an internal investigation.
The video, meanwhile, has put Thornton under pressure to re-evaluate the officers’ hiring and training, which some say is far too lax.
“I was surprised, to be candid. I was appalled, I was disappointed; it really cut right to who I am as a person,” Thornton said at a news conference.
“I’m charged to take care of our children, and certainly we have some folks who were doing things that were inappropriate. Every emotion went through me, from outrage to disappointment,” he said.
Attempts to reach Spence and Bias or their attorneys on Wednesday were not successful.
Spence told The Associated Press in a phone conversation on Friday that would not discuss the criminal investigation because he believes the news media would “twist” the story.
“Right now, I’m the bad guy,” he said, referring questions to his lawyer, Michael Davey, who didn’t immediately respond to the AP.
Thornton insisted that this was an isolated incident, but said it has prompted a comprehensive review of the entire police force.
“We’ve used it as an opportunity to go into our whole organization and begin to talk about things: How do we hire, how do we train, look at background checks,” he said.
Court records show that in 2011, another Baltimore School Police officer accused Spence of grabbing her, striking her in the face and preventing her from driving away. The officer later dropped her request for a protective order against him.
Bias was charged with second-degree assault that same year, for throwing a bottle of alcohol at a man she was breaking up with. The man did not press charges and that case was shelved.
Spence was fired from the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office in 2002 after he was involved in the violent arrest of a man the officers falsely identified as a robbery suspect. Goodwin would have known this — he was a sheriff’s spokesman at the time.
Spence also serves as the vice president of Sentinel Protection Agency, a private security firm, under chief executive Clyde Boatwright, who was fired along with Spence. Boatright now doubles as president of the Baltimore School Police union.