US & Canada

Baltimore ex-cop Michael Wood Jr on brutality and racism

A black man sits in front of Baltimore riot police stand guard 28 April 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ex-officer Wood says he saw police beat handcuffed suspects (file photo)

Former Baltimore Police officer Michael A Wood Jr caused a storm on social media after tweeting shocking examples of police misconduct that he says he witnessed while on the force.

These allegations come under the shadow of allegations that police brutality caused the death of Freddie Gray, leading to riots across the city in April.

We asked Sgt Wood, who left the department in 2014, to elaborate a bit more on the allegations in his tweets. The allegations, which have not been independently verified, include officers attacking a woman, defecating in beds and racially targeting suspects.

Baltimore Police say the allegations are "serious and very troubling" and called on Mr Wood to provide full details so they can launch an investigation. Their full response is included at the end of this piece.

WARNING: This piece contains explicit language.

'Slapping an innocent female'

Image copyright Twitter

I was a rookie in around 2005. The detective was coming out of the door at the same time. He bumped into her and when she turned, she was like "excuse me". He immediately reached back, smashed her in the face. I'm paraphrasing, but he said "bitch you don't talk to me that way".

I was a rookie, I didn't know anything. I just got scared and got into my car and left.

What was her race?

She was black.

Was that a factor?

I don't know, this officer was such an asshole I'm not sure it would have mattered. To you this is shocking but I don't think a single person that lives in a low income area in any city in America would find that a shocking statement.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Black youth rioted in Baltimore following Freddie Gray's death

'Boom! Right in the face'

Image copyright Twitter

I was a rookie again. I got a call on the radio that there was a foot chase, "I got a black male running".

I corner him in an alley, he tried to get away, there is a little bit of a struggle but no big deal. I handcuff him and as he is laying on the ground, the officer that was chasing him comes round the corner.

And with a steel-toed boot, just boom right in the face. His eye instantly swells up and he is hurt pretty good.

This was cowardly but I just went, "What the hell dude?"

I said: "He's your suspect and I'm out of here."

Did you think to report it?

No! That would have been unheard of. Anyone who runs gets beat up. That's common in America. I wasn't putting myself in the victim's shoes, I was thinking this isn't me. This guy is an asshole but this isn't me - I'm out of here.


'Defecating in beds'

Image copyright Twitter

In around 2008, I ended up being assigned to a plain clothes anti-narcotics unit. We would do big raids around the city, and you would frequently do big raids with people you didn't know.

So we were in a raid [in a suspect's home], and somebody was pissing on a pillow and somebody else was shitting in the corner - and it was just like, what the hell are these guys doing?

In the car the detectives with me were like who the hell does this? Apparently some people did it in the past and it was a throwback to then.

This seems very brazen - you would be leaving a lot of forensic evidence?

Right! I said the same thing. Someone is going to be like someone pissed on my sheet. They are going to be like, [the evidence] it's right there! The detectives said they would just say the canine did it - it's not like someone is going to test it. It's a plausible excuse.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption "The Wire isn't Baltimore but it's got some dramatically accurate representations"

'The Wire has got some dramatically accurate representations'

Image copyright Twitter

The Wire isn't Baltimore but it's got some dramatically accurate representations. There are a load of officers, and there are a bunch of black guys on the corner and they jump out of there car and search them. And as long as they're cool they say "alright man, get off the corner".

Legally you can't go into their pockets, you can't search them but that happens to everybody. You just grab them and start searching them. I did it, we all do it - it's what police do. Those are all illegal searches.

How frequently did you do it?

I was standing there doing it with everybody else. That's just what you're taught to do. You don't even think - it's what you do.


'This is Baltimore - you target black males!'

Image copyright Twitter

This was a realisation that I didn't even come to until very recently. So I ended up getting my bachelor's degree when I was in the police department. I started reading things like Freakonomics - things that teach you to think from a critical perspective.

I was a shift commander, and I told the shift that when you go out there doing car stops:

"I don't want to see you stopping an old lady - this is Baltimore! You stop 16-24 year old black males."

Why? Because 16-24 black males are the ones who commit all the crime. It's not until later that you complete the logic circle and realise that black and white [people] have drug possession at the same rate. You are only locking up black guys because they have drugs on them, and then they get in more trouble. We didn't know about the concept of institutional racism.

You left in 2014 - is that common?

Oh it will continue to be common until somebody takes over an agency and says no [to racial profiling].

If the officers are found guilty of Freddie Gray's murder how will the police respond?

I don't think there is [any] chance that they will be happy that a murderer was caught. That seems unfathomable right now. They're gonna feel like their people got railroaded. They're still in us versus them, they don't see Freddie Gray as a human being victim. They see Freddie Gray as a them, as somebody else, a bad guy.


Baltimore Police Department's full response

The recent allegations made by Mr Michael Wood are serious and very troubling. The Police Commissioner has made clear that the Baltimore Police Department will never tolerate malicious conduct.

We hope that during his time as both a sworn member and as a sergeant with supervisory obligations, Mr Wood reported these disturbing allegations at the time of their occurrence. If he did not, we strongly encourage him to do so now, so that our Internal Affairs Division can begin an immediate investigation.

In a recently published letter to the Baltimore Sun, the Police Commissioner made clear that his reform efforts remain focused on rooting out the type of conduct that is alleged.