Officer punished in student beating

December 14, 2012

A former police officer will spend 30 days in home detention for beating a University of Maryland student during a rowdy celebration following the school's 2010 basketball victory over Duke, a judge ruled Friday.

James Harrison was sentenced to a year in jail on the assault conviction. All but 30 days was suspended and the judge ordered the former Prince George's County officer to serve those in home detention.

At the center of the case was a video that shows the student half-skipping, half-jogging down the sidewalk and stopping by a police officer on horseback. An officer initially strikes him with a baton, and Harrison runs over later and also hits him. Defense attorneys said during a trial earlier this year that officers were trying to control a riot. Prosecutors described the event as a celebration.

Harrison told the judge he was proud to be a police officer and served for more than 20 years with distinction. He said he didn't agree with the jury's verdict in his case but he accepted it, and he asked the judge for leniency. Harrison's lawyer said the 48-year-old father of eight had already been punished enough, losing his career and becoming estranged from former coworkers.


The student Harrison was convicted of assaulting, John McKenna, who was 21 at the time, also spoke at the 30-minute hearing. He talked about an injury to his head from the beating, which required eight surgical staples to close, and said police officers came looking for a fight, a charge Harrison's lawyer disputed. McKenna said he would have to explain what happened at every job interview he ever goes on.

''This changed my life forever,'' said McKenna, who is working toward becoming a lawyer.

Initial charges against McKenna were dropped.

Lawyers for the state asked that Harrison spend six months in jail while Harrison's lawyer, David Simpson, argued he should serve no jail time. Simpson said after the hearing that he plans to file a motion asking the judge to remove Harrison's conviction from his record.

The judge in the case, Beverly J. Woodard, noted Harrison's years of police service and said she didn't understand why the postgame celebration got so unruly.

''Unfortunately that four seconds has changed two lives,'' Woodard said of the beating.

Harrison was one of two officers ultimately charged with assaulting McKenna. The other, Reginald Baker, was cleared of any wrongdoing by a jury in October. At the same time, Harrison was found guilty of second-degree assault but cleared of a misconduct charge. He will begin serving home detention in January.

Earlier this year Prince George's County agreed to pay about $3.6 million to 10 people who were either falsely arrested or injured by police during the post-game celebration during which McKenna was beaten. Approximately $2 million of the settlement will go to McKenna.