Court upholds firing of city officer who berated youth on YouTube

Maryland’s second highest court on Friday upheld the firing of a Baltimore police officer who was caught on video berating and pushing a 14-year-old skateboarder at the Inner Harbor in 2007.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled that Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld III had the authority to terminate the 19-year veteran officer, Salvatore Rivieri, despite a recommendation from an administrative hearing board that he be suspended for six days and lose six days of leave.

Judges wrote that the “commissioner cannot overturn the hearing board’s factual finding of guilt or non-guilt.” But, they said, “the recommendation of a penalty by the hearing board is not binding on the chief.”

The administrative board, called a trial board, had cleared Rivieri of the most serious charges of using excessive force and language. They found him guilty of failing to write a report and to fill out a citizen’s contact form.

Rivieri’s attorneys with the police union argued that while Bealefeld could fire the officer, his decision to do so on what they argued a trivial infraction involving paperwork made the move appear retaliatory and was a result of bowing to political and public pressure. Union officials said Friday they are considering appealing to the state’s highest court.

The officer’s confrontation with Eric Bush on July 1, 2007 went viral on YouTube. After feeling the youngster ignored his orders to stop skateboarding in the harbor, Rivieri is seen pushing Bush to the ground and grabbing his skateboard. Angry at repeatedly being called “dude,” the officer went on a rant:

“Obviously your parents don’t put a foot in your butt quite enough because you don’t understand the meaning of respect,” Rivieri shouted. He added: “I’m not ‘man.’ I’m not ‘dude.’ I am Officer Rivieri, and the sooner you learn that the longer you’re going to live in this world. You go around doing this kind of stuff, somebody’s going to kill you.”

The Court of Special Appeals ruled that Bealefeld was correct in saying Rivieri had brought “discredit upon and undermined public confidence” in the department.” The court ruled that Bealefeld’s upping the punishment “is not sufficient evidence of retaliation.”

At a Circuit Court hearing last year, the police department’s attorney called Rivieri’s actions an “international incident” that cast a pall on the force and the city, and called not writing a report “tantamount to a cover-up.”

Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun

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