Prince George’s Co. police officer convicted of assaulting suspect

A Prince George’s County, Maryland, police officer has been found guilty of charges he punched a handcuffed suspect in the face.

Cpl. Stephen Downey was convicted Thursday by Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Ingrid M. Turner in a bench trial of misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

The incident happened after police were called to a CVS in Temple Hills, Maryland, in October 2018. Downey struck the man, who was homeless, multiple times in the face as he sat handcuffed and seat-belted in the front seat of a cruiser. Authorities said the man had complained about his handcuffs being too tight before he was hit.

A lawyer for Downey said the man had become agitated and aggressive, and Downey, who has been with the department for eight years, feared being butted in the head.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said at a news conference after the verdict that Downey’s actions “do not represent what we know about the Prince George’s County Police Department. The vast majority of our officers operate with integrity.”

Of her own office, Braveboy said, “We work hand-in-hand with our police, but we also hold them accountable if they violate the public’s trust.”

Braveboy emphasized that the prosecution’s “credible witnesses” included Downey’s fellow officers, who reported him and testified against him: “Those brave officers stood up. They did not accept the actions of their superior officer.”

Another witness was the victim, Andre Verdier, who thanked God and Braveboy’s team of prosecutors, adding, “I was glad to be helpful to this case.”

Prosecutors dropped a burglary charge against Verdier a month after the assault.

County police Chief Hank Stawinski apologized to Verdier and said that “the actions of this individual do not represent” the 2,000 officers of the department.

Stawinski added that he was “proud” that, for the third time in his tenure as chief, officers spoke out about misconduct, resulting in prosecution. “Nothing’s perfect,” Stawinski said, but added, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

He also said, promising, “Our culture of policing in Prince George’s County will align with our values in Prince George’s County.”

Sentencing has been set for October. Downey is facing a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Braveboy said that her office would now begin determining what sentence to recommend.

Stawinski said that once the criminal phase ended with the sentencing, the department would begin considering internal action, but he did say, “I don’t believe this person has a place in the ranks of the Prince George’s police department.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2013 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He's the author of "A Walking Tour of the Georgetown Set" and "I Got a Song: A History of the Newport Folk Festival."

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP.

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