SEABROOK – A former Prince George’s Police Department (PGPD) officer was found guilty of two misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault and misconduct in office for punching a man in the face repeatedly while he was restrained in handcuffs last year.
On Aug. 8, Cpl. Stephen Downey was convicted on both counts after a three-day trial by Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Ingrid M. Turner in a bench trial in an incident that occurred on Oct. 29, 2018 in Temple Hills.
According to police, the victim, Andre Verdier, was homeless and sleeping inside a shipping container. Downey, assigned to the Bureau of Patrol, was called to provide backup as officials were arresting Verdier and already had him with handcuffs and secured in the front seat of their police cruiser.
As Verdier complained about the tightness of the cuffs, Downey reportedly put on his gloves and began to punch Verdier in the face multiple times. During the trial, witnesses testified that Downey asked officers on the scene if the cameras in the police car were on before the assault took place.
“Our police officers are charged with protecting the public and enforcing the law,” Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy said. “While the majority of our fine officers execute their duties faithfully within the bounds of the law, today’s conviction is an example where we’ve successfully held a defendant fully accountable to the law regardless of his occupational status.”
Downey’s lawyer attempted to argue in court that Verdier became agitated and aggressive after being handcuffed. The eight-year police officer also said that he feared for his safety during the interaction.
An officer on the scene of the incident notified his supervisor of Downey’s assault and once the department’s Internal Affairs Division finished its investigation, it forwarded their findings to the state’s attorney’s office. During the trial, two PGPD officers at the scene of the incident testified in court against Downey.
Braveboy called their actions “brave,” while Chief Hank Stawinski said it was only the third time during his tenure as police chief that officers reported misconduct behavior committed by another officer.
“This is clear evidence to me of a police culture that is in line with the high expectations of the community,” Stawinski said. “This sort of conduct will not be tolerated by any of us.”
Verdier also testified against Downey in court. Following the court’s decision, he thanked Braveboy and her team during the press conference.
“They worked very hard on this case,” Verdier said. “I was glad to be helpful to this case and everything was accurate and true.”
Stawinski apologized to Verdier about the incident and said Downey “does not represent the more than 2,000 members of the Prince George’s County Police Department.”
The department has dealt with multiple allegations of police misconduct and discrimination within the force in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU last December. The lawsuit is still ongoing, according to attorneys working the case.
“I thank the state’s attorney’s office for their handling of this case,” Stawinski said. “And to assure you once again that our culture of policing in Prince George’s County will align with the values of our community of Prince George’s County.”
Downey was suspended with pay from the force on March 7 after being charged. After the sentencing process, Stawinski said the agency will begin internal actions, which includes an internal police review, on Downey’s future with PGPD. However, Stawinski said Downey will not return the department.
“I don’t think this person has a place in the ranks of the Prince George’s County Police Department,” Stawinski said.
According to the state’s attorney’s office, while there is no statutory punishment for misconduct in office, Downey faces up to 10 years in prison for the assault charge. Sentencing will take place on Oct. 25. Downey was not made available for comment after the trial.