TOWSON, Md (WMAR) — It started with cell phone video that went viral, showing 76-year-old Rena Mellerson thrown to the ground by a Baltimore County police officer outside her Lochearn home.
It prompted an internal and criminal investigation and Tuesday, the department released 45 minutes of 911 calls and body camera footage that shows what happened before and after the shocking encounter.
Former Baltimore City Deputy Police Commissioner Jason Johnson took a look at all the footage and said it's apparent frustrations were high; there were many opportunities to de-escalate the situation and a better way to go about the arrests but legally, he doesn't believe they did anything wrong.
"In hindsight, all of this could have been avoided by simply a more proportional response," said Johnson.
Johnson was a career police officer and at one point in charge of conducting investigations of allegations of police misconduct in Prince George's County, so he's looking at lots of cases like this.
The incident started when officers were called to Cierra Floyd's Milford Mill neighborhood for a complaint about a boy with autism who became violent.
"He hit my vehicle. He tried to walk into my house. He hit her in the chest," said Floyd to responding officer Cpl. Brennan.
Seconds into their conversation, things took a turn. Floyd started cursing and said she didn't want to talk to police. He threatened to arrest her, sparking a 10-minute long argument.
"For a person in a residential community like that to be yelling loudly and creating a situation where people would maybe stop, take notice of what they are doing and maybe be disturbed by it, sort of disturbing the public peace is what the law requires. I certainly think that was there. I think letter of the law Ms. Floyd was in violation of the law. She was acting in a disorderly manner," said Johnson.
Though illegal, Johnson said there were probably better ways to de-escalate the situation then.
"I think as a law enforcement officer sometimes you have to pick your battles so to speak and sometimes it's better to just attempt to diffuse or calm the situation down rather than potentially escalate it," said Johnson.
Charging documents said while Brennan was helping take care of the original reason that police were called, Floyd left the scene, later telling WAMR-2 News she went to her grandmother's house to pick up her kids. Brennan responded to her listed MVA address, her grandmother's house, to make the disorderly conduct arrest he planned to do at the other scene. Upon arrival, 76-year-old Rena Mellerson answered the door. He explained he was there to arrest Floyd for disorderly conduct and Mellerson initially told her to go with police but Floyd declined and the two eventually closed the door on Brennan, getting his foot stuck in the door. He can be heard shouting, 'Get back, my foot is stuck in the door!' on video while he calls dispatch for back up and he tries to force his way in with a baton, pepper spray and a taser. He also brandishes his service weapon. He gets the door open as back up arrives and Officer Schmidt rushes up as he is pulling Mellerson out of the house. Schmidt grabs Mellerson, throwing her to the ground. It's this act that was widely criticized. Schmidt later tells Mellerson he did it because he thought his fellow officer was in danger.
"I just wanted to get you out of the way... nothing personal," said Schmidt.
It's Brennan's choice to go to Mellerson's house at all to make that arrest that Johnson questions, saying it may have not been the best course of action for a non-violent misdemeanor.
"The real issue here is maybe an over investment maybe on the part of Cpl. Brennan to make the arrest at that time; rather than taking a wider view of this incident and realizing that if he wants to charge her with disorderly conduct, there's an opportunity to do that without actually having to make that arrest today," said Johnson. "You don't always have to make an immediate arrest. You have to consider the seriousness of the crime for one thing, along with other factors. There are children in the home. There's an elderly woman in the home."
As for Mellerson being thrown to the ground, while Johnson said it's difficult to watch, he believes it was a reasonable use of force.
"He came there armed with the belief that another police officer was involved in a struggle, in a confrontation. This is an officer needs assistance call, so as he's responding, he has these thoughts that he has to potentially use force when he gets there," said Johnson. "It turned out it really wasn't warranted or necessary but I do think based on what he had, it was reasonable."
The two officers have been moved to non-duty-related positions pending the conclusion of internal and criminal investigations.
Floyd and Mellerson are facing a series of charges including resisting or interfering with an arrest and second degree assault. Their family is calling for the offers to be terminated or re-trained. Johnson said in almost all cases like this, some sort of re-training is needed.
"Emotions drive decision making and if nothing else, that could be a training message is don't let your emotions drive you decisions," said Johnson.
Below is a statement from Mellerson/Floyd:
The family and I have had a chance to view the video and from what we observed, it was consistent with what we’d known all along. Cpl. Brennan appeared to be more concerned with censuring protected speech and using his police powers to vindicate his dignity rather than suppressing crime and ensuring public safety. This is a classic case of Contempt of Cop. The problem is “Contempt of Cop” is not a criminal offense in the State of Maryland, however, it could form the basis of administrative or civil action.
Accordingly, we intend to challenge in a court of law the legality of the warrantless arrest(s) of Rena Mellerson and Cierra Floyd, and the time, place and manner in which the arrests occurred. If Floyd’s disorderly conduct arrests is deemed illegal, then everything that flowed from the arrests would be deemed illegal --from the warrantless forcible entry into Mellerson’s home, to the indiscriminate deployment of OC/pepper spray and a taser against its occupants (including minor children), to the threat of deadly force to induce compliance, and Mellerson’s attack, arrest, and time in jail.
Officer Schmidt’s conduct was indefensible, reckless, and wrongful and so too was his justification therefor. The video clearly showed Schmidt snatch Mellerson from Cpl. Brennan’s custody and control, then hip-toss, and slam Mellerson to the ground. Will BaCo State’s Attorney ever prosecute this brutal attack against “this” elderly victim? I don’t know. But I would truly like to see where his compassion resides for the elderly and what drives his passion for equal justice.