Jurors deliberated 17 minutes on Wednesday before acquitting a Rising Sun Police Department officer accused of slamming a 17-year-old girl’s head against the hood of a patrol car and applying extreme upward pressure on the arrestee’s arms while they were handcuffed behind her back.
The jury returned not guilty verdicts on second-degree assault and misconduct in office, the two charges that Daniel Stickney, 37, defended himself against during the two-day trial in Cecil County Circuit Court.
Stickney, who was represented by Baltimore-based lawyer Lawrence S. Greenberg, elected not to testify in his own defense.
“There is nothing hanging over his head. This is done. He’s on the force,” Greenberg said shortly after the verdict, explaining that there is no reason Stickney wouldn’t be able to keep his job.
He was never was off the force. Stickney was issued a criminal summons on March 21 in this now-adjudicated case and, amid the criminal charges against him, he remained on the police force. Stickney holds the Patrolman 1st Class rank.
Prosecutors alleged that Stickney assaulted Brianna Antao, now 18, about 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 5, 2011 outside Martin’s supermarket at 24 Rising Sun Town Center after taking her into custody for shoplifting.
Cecil County State’s Attorney Ellis Rollins III showed jurors store surveillance video of Stickney, clad in street clothes, including sweatpants, leading Antao – her hands cuffed behind her back – out the store and to a patrol car parked in front of Martin’s.
The state contended that Stickney’s excessive force resulted in the herky-jerky walk, as well as for Antao’s arms periodically thrusting upward behind her back and for her head pounding into the hood of patrol car.
However, the defense maintained that Antao generated all of the abrupt movement observed on the video because she was struggling wildly to break free and, because the teen was in handcuffs, she caused pain to herself while Stickney simply held her arm. The defense also disputed that Antao’s head struck the hood.
Although the state entered the surveillance video to prosecute the charged police officer, Greenberg surmised that it actually benefited the defense.
“It is my belief that the jury needed to see nothing more than the video to see that she was fighting, struggling,” Greenberg said before adding, “You never saw Officer Stickney’s hand. You never saw him take her to the ground or raise her arms above her shoulder plane.”
Greenberg also attributed the acquittal to testimony from RSPD Patrolman 1st Class Richard Hardy, who, in uniform, partnered with Stickney, in street clothes, to handle the shoplifting complaint that night. They rode together in Hardy’s patrol car.
Hardy described Antao as profanely boisterous and combative after Stickney took her cell phone because she was texting in a grocery store office, after Hardy had made arrangements to release the teen into the custody of a guardian.
“She was hostile, very hostile,” Hardy testified Wednesday. “She was constantly swearing, cursing. She did not want to go. She used her body weight. She was jerking a lot. When you’re in handcuffs, the more you move, the more pain you cause yourself.”
While watching the video on a courtroom screen, Hardy testified that it appeared Stickney was relatively motionless while Antao thrashed.
At one point while Hardy was on the stand as the video played, Rollins asked, “Look at how high her elbows are there now, does that bother you?” and Hardy replied, “Do I think that’s extreme? No.”
Hardy, who joined RSPD after retiring from Maryland State Police, testified that, based on his numerous years of law enforcement experience, how a detainee is reacting dictates how aggressively an arresting officer handles the situation.
Along those lines, Hardy testified that arresting officers could justifiably lift an arrestee’s arms even higher that what was seen on the surveillance video or throw him or her down onto the pavement to subdue that person.
The jury apparently agreed with the information contained in Hardy’s testimony, according to Rollins, who spoke with some of the jurors after Wednesday’s verdict.
(Speaking with consenting jurors after a verdict – favorable or unfavorable – is a common practice among lawyers to gain insight that might help them prepare for future trials. Greenberg, for example, spoke to five jurors and one alternate afterward, he reported.)
“Apparently, they (jurors) all felt like some force was used. But at the end of the day, they didn’t believe it was excessive force,” Rollins said.
According to RSPD Chief Chip Peterson, who is Stickney’s boss, the acquittal represents a victory for all police officers in this county, regardless of agency.
“That trial was not about Dan Stickney. It was about the ability of all law enforcement officers in Cecil County to ward off attacks and to overcome resistance while making a lawful arrest,” Peterson said.
Antao testified Tuesday that she was searching her cell phone directory for her mother’s number in that office – after Hardy had asked for it – when Stickney snatched the teen’s phone from her.
At that point, according to Antao’s testimony, she did curse loudly but did not struggle. She testified that Stickney pushed and pulled her while she was handcuffed.
Chad Quinter, the store’s loss prevention officer who called police after catching the teen shoplifting, testified Wednesday that Stickney confiscated Antao’s cell phone because she was texting.
He also testified that Antao lashed out at that point, prompting Hardy to handcuff her and then Stickney to escort her out the store.
According to Quinter, she yelled profanities and wiggled and squirmed as Stickney led her out the store to the patrol car.
While she admitted to cursing at Stickney at the outset, Antao testified that she was screaming in pain moments later because Stickney lifted her bound arms high into the air and pounded her head against the car hood. Antao said she begged for mercy.
During her testimony, Antao acknowledged that she shoplifted in the grocery store that night, as well as bought prescription painkillers after arranging to meet a drug dealer in a supermarket public restroom and ingested those pills (“less than five”) to avoid drug charges after the security employee collared her and before police arrived.
Antao also testified that she was under the influence of prescription painkillers when she arrived at that grocery store.