- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 11, 2012

No criminal charges will be filed against a Laurel Police officer who was videotaped striking a handcuffed man in the face as the man was arrested this summer, Laurel officials said Tuesday.

A Prince George’s County grand jury declined to indict the officer, identified in court records as Officer Juan Diaz-Chavarria, prosecutors said.

“If they decline to indict, we go with that recommendation,” said John Erzen, spokesman for Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. “Obviously, everything we put in front of a grand jury we feel like we have a good case.”

Officer Diaz-Chavarria, a 3-year-veteran of the department, remains the subject of an internal investigation by the Laurel Police Department but expected to be returned to full-duty status on his next scheduled shift, Laurel spokesman Pete Piringer said. The Aug. 5 incident also spawned a $3 million civil lawsuit by the handcuffed man, 27-year-old D’Ante Williams, who said he was struck in the face three times by the officer as he was being arrested.

The state’s attorney began investigating the incident after a cellphone video surfaced that showed Mr. Williams being struck in the face by a Laurel officer as he was being arrested after a fight outside the Laurel Station Bar and Grill. Court documents, which were written by Officer Diaz-Chavarria, say Mr. Williams and another man were arrested outside the bar after assaulting a security officer who had kicked them out of the bar. The officer used pepper spray on the men and was escorting Mr. Williams to a patrol car when he attempted to spit at the officer.

Mr. Erzen on Tuesday said he was not immediately able to answer questions about the type of evidence presented to the grand jury.

Mr. Williams was charged with second-degree assault and other crimes related to the incident. Both criminal charges against Mr. Williams and the civil suit are pending in court. Jimmy Bell, the attorney representing Mr. Williams in both cases, could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Laurel Police Chief Richard McLaughlin was “pleased the officer was afforded due process,” Mr. Piringer said. City officials were limited in what they could say about the incident as the internal investigation into the incident is ongoing, he added.

Citing concern over a series of complaints involving officers’ conduct, the Prince George’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has previously asked that the Laurel Police Department get an outside agency to conduct internal investigations.

“We are looking for them to discharge him after they finish their investigation,” said the chapter’s president, Bob Ross, expressing disappointment over the grand jury’s decision. “Any police department would look at that tape and say, ‘The man has to go.’ There is no justification of hitting someone in handcuffs.”

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