Baltimore Police Investigating Claim that Officer Humiliated Black High School Principal

A Black high school principal accused a Baltimore County Police officer of degrading and humiliating him while he and his son were watching an arrest last month.

Vance Benton, the principal of Patterson High School in East Baltimore, wrote a letter to county officials and the county’s police chief Melissa R. Hyatt, stating that he had never experienced an incident with such “disrespect and humiliation,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

In the letter, Benton, a principal at the school for over eight years, wrote that he was watching an arrest a block away from his home in Owings Mills, Maryland when an officer confronted him, even though he was not involved in the crime the police were investigating.

“The lives of innocent citizens, especially those that are African American, are in jeopardy if [the officer’s] innate racial biases and his belittling actions to ‘bait’ citizens into being arrested aren’t analyzed and addressed immediately,” Benton wrote in the letter obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Benton said that the incident occurred on July 29. While traveling to pick up his 15-year-old son from swim practice, he saw two people, who appeared to be a couple, having an argument on the side of the road. When he returned with his son, he spotted a young, Black man sitting on the curb handcuffed, with his shirt torn.

Benton and his son walked back to the scene after dropping off the car at home, The Baltimore Sun reported. The principal told the publication he wanted to make sure the young man in handcuffs was “handled properly by police,” and to teach his son about how to stay out of trouble.

Benton said he was about 20 yards away from the arrest when a white officer began to talk about bystanders hindering investigations. As Benton turned to talk with his son, the white officer reportedly shouted: “Don’t you buck up at me.”

"Did you see me buck up or even raise my voice?” Benton said he asked his son. “I told him that’s how Black boys and men get killed by the police when police choose to see things that are not there.”

The officer then took out his flashlight and shone it in Benton’s face. When Benton asked for the officer’s name, the officer asked, “Can you even read?” The officer then asked Taj, Benton’s son, if he listened to his father’s advice. When Taj responded in the affirmative, the officer said, “I guess I will be seeing you again.” Based on his remark, Benton believes the officer was implying that his son would get in trouble with police in the near future, The Baltimore Sun reported.

“He saw me as the ‘n-word’ and not as a Black man with his son. He saw me as another opportunity to degrade someone and he relished that opportunity to do it in front of my son,” Benton said.

Benton said he and his son both turned away and said goodnight to the officer, but he told the publication he believes the officer was trying to bait him so he could be arrested. It is unknown what the police officer’s name is.

The North Star has reached out to the Baltimore County Police Department for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. In a statement to The Baltimore Sun, Hyatt said the incident is being investigated.

“We take all matters brought to our attention seriously and the agency is investigating the matter,” Hyatt said in a statement through her public information officer.

In June, a Baltimore Police officer faced criminal charges after body camera footage proved he had contradicted his report about a Black man who was “combative and aggressive” while walking past the arrest of another man.

Lee Dotson saw two Baltimore police officers on May 30 forcing a man to sit on a wet curb when he told the officers “The ground wet, man.” Dotson calmly walked away when Sergeant Ethan Newberg told Dotson, “Why don’t you mind your own business?” Newberg then chased Dotson down the street and attempted to take him down.

Once he is handcuffed by a different officer, Dotson can be heard complaining about the way officers treated him and that his rights were being violated. Newberg can be heard responding, “Take your charge like a man.” Dotson was charged with disorderly conduct, interfering with an arrest, and drug charges, but the charges were eventually dropped by prosecutors.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.