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Five years after manhandling a skateboarder, a Baltimore cop’s firing is upheld

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Praised be the video technology that now makes it all the harder for rogue police officers to operate in the shadows. Praised be the people who boldly videotape those actions, including a friend of a skateboarder manhandled in 2007 by now-former Baltimore City, Maryland, police officer Salvatore Rivieri (video here).

I can have compassion for Mr. Rivieri, just as it is critical for me to have compassion for all people and living beings. His conduct totally unbecoming an officer did not arise in a vaccuum. For him to have inflicted so much misery that 2007 summer day, he likely was suffering himself.

Nevertheless, such behavior was so egregious, that Mr. Rivieri did not belong on the police force, not for purposes of punishing him, but for purposes of preventing his repeating his abusive behavior and to make clear to police officers that such behavior will not be tolerated.

On April 27, 2012, Maryland’s intermediate appellate court upheld the police commissioner’s 2010 firing of Mr. Rivieri, finding no protection against the firing in Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights. Rivieri v. Baltimore Police Department, ___ Md. App. ___ (April 27, 2012). 

In firing Mr. Rivieri, the police commissioner said:

In light of Officer Rivieri’s conduct, as seen on the CD of the YouTube footage, his ability to interact effectively with the citizens of Baltimore has been seriously compromised. Based upon the conduct observed in the video, I have significant doubts about Officer Rivieri’s ability to carryout [sic] the Department’s mission for improved community relations. His conduct, as captured on video, has brought discredit upon and undermined the public confidence in Officer Rivieri and the Baltimore Police Department, on a local, national, and even international scale.

This incident “ had this incident not been captured on video and because of Officer Rivieri’s failure to author any reporting, whatsoever, his conduct, as serious as it was, may have gone unnoticed and/or unreported. This failure left our Department completely unprepared to deal with the media firestorm and public outcry that ensued once the video surfaced on YouTube. Officer Rivieri’s failure to report his action is tantamount to trying to conceal his conduct and will not be tolerated.Despite Officer Rivieri’s testimony to the contrary, the Trial Board found that he did not issue a Contact Receipt. Officer Rivieri’s conduct reflects negatively on his viability as an effective prosecution witness, in light of the significant media and public attention the footage has garnered. I have given your statements in this case my full consideration. 

Sending police into the streets with guns, tasers and the power of arrest, and sending soldiers into the battlefield with weapons and the discretion to kill and maim at a moment’s notice requires us to step back and recognize that doing so will bring abuses and atrocities sometimes or often of the grossest magnitude. In order to properly and sufficiently select, train, supervise, promote, discipline and reward police and soldiers, it is critical to substantially shrink the criminal justice system and to be extremely careful before sending soldiers to war and battle. As I have said repeatedly, the ideal way shrink the criminal justice system — and to have much more balanced government budgets in these tough financial times — is to legalize marijuana, heavily decriminalize all other drugs, focus more on drug education and treatment over criminalization of drugs, legalize prostitution and gambling, eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing, eliminating the death penalty, and eliminating per se drunk driving laws.