- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

A woman who lost a civil lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department, claiming she was assaulted and illegally arrested after she filmed officers arresting a teenager, will get a second shot at her case.

The Richmond, Virginia-based Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered Makia Smith’s case to be remanded to a lower court and retried after finding that testimony about her prior arrests should not have been disclosed at trial.

“We cannot say with fair assurance the judgment was not substantially swayed by the admission of Smith’s prior arrests,” Judge Stephanie Thacker wrote in the court’s 26-page opinion.

Ms. Smith filed suit against the police department and Officers Nathan Church, William Pilkerton Jr., Nathan Ulmer and Kenneth Campbell after her 2012 arrest.

She claimed that while stopped in rush hour traffic, she saw officers arresting a teenage boy and used her cellphone to video-record the incident. She said that as she was recording, Officer Church rushed over to her yelling “You want to film something bitch? Film this!”

She claimed he grabbed her phone and threw it to the ground, then pulled her out of her car by her hair, beat her and arrested her.

The appeals court noted that Officer Church’s version of event was quite different, with the officer testifying that Ms. Smith’s car was blocking traffic while she recorded the officers and that he asked her to pull her car over to the side of the road. When she refused as he began to approach her car, she tried to get back in the car in an apparent attempt to flee, he said.

When he reached into the car to grab her keys, Ms. Smith kicked and scratched him, Officer Church said.

Ms. Smith was charged with second-degree assault and other charges, but those eventually were dropped by prosecutors.

During her civil trial in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Ms. Smith was questioned by lawyers for the police department about her prior arrests. Ms. Smith testified that she had been arrested but was not convicted of a crime in any of the three cases.

The Fourth Circuit in a 3-0 ruling found that allowing testimony about Ms. Smith’s prior arrests was an error by the lower court.

“The main issues in the case — who assaulted whom, whether probable cause to arrest existed, whether the force used by Officer Church was justified - hinged on which witness the jury believed, making the trial a classic he-said, she-said dispute,” Judge Thacker wrote. “Thus, the jury’s view of Smith’s credibility and character was necessarily central to its verdict.”

The Fourth Circuit reversed the ruling and remanded the case for a new trial.

“We fail to see how Smith’s prior arrests were relevant to her claim for damages, which was the sole reason the district court admitted them, and any probative value of those arrests was far outweighed by prejudice to Smith,” the ruling states.

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