Officer Receives Suspended Sentence in UMD Beating Case

James Harrison gets 30 days of home detention

Friday, Dec 14, 2012  |  Updated 5:39 PM EDT
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UMD Police Beating Victim Reacts to Verdict

John McKenna, the former student beaten by police while celebrating a men's basketball victory over Duke in March 2010, speaks after the verdict was delivered in the trial of two officers.
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A former Prince George's County Police corporal received a one-year suspended sentence with 30 days of home detention Friday, for his actions in a 2010 beating incident at the University of Maryland.

When handing down the sentence, Judge Beverly Woodard said she recognized that former officer James Harrison had taken dangerous people off the street during his years on the force.

Harrison was a 22-year veteran of the force, awarded the Medal of Valor and Officer of the Year. Now he's got a criminal record and is looking for a job to support his wife and eight children, three of whom are in college.

His life changed "in four seconds," she said.

In October, Harrison was found guilty of second-degree assault stemming from a clash between College Park students and police after UMD bested Duke in a basketball game on March 3, 2010.

A jury said that Harrison used excessive force because student John McKenna was already on the ground and submissive. Video captured Harrison hitting McKenna with a baton.

Maryland State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said she feels the sentence is appropriate, News4's Chris Gordon reports. Alsobrooks also said that Harrison's home detention will send a warning to other officers, reminding them not to use excessive force.

McKenna said at Friday's sentencing that his life has been changed forever. He said it broke his heart to see his mother watch footage of the beating on TV.

Terrell Roberts, McKenna's lawyer, said he thought Harrison should have gotten some jail time, although he declined to speculate on how much. He said he is concerned that there were others who helped in an initial cover-up, Gordon reports.

If it hadn't been for the video of the brawl, Roberst said, McKenna would have been the one convicted of assault. His client was charged with assault on a police officer and a horse before the charges were dropped.

Roberts also said he hopes the Department of Justice will continue its own investigation.

In October, Prince George's County agreed to pay about $3.6 million in settlements to 10 people who were either falsely arrested or were injured by police during the melee. Of that, $2 million will go to McKenna.

Judge Woodard said she can't fathom how the student celebration became a confrontation with police.

"I went to the University of Michigan, with an intense rivalry with Ohio State," she said. "A hundred thousand thousand people would come to a game. They never had to call police when the game was over."

Harrison will begin his home detention Jan. 11. He also received 18 months unsupervised probation.

Harrison's lawyer said that losing his career as a police officer is the biggest punishment Harrison can face.

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