Blake acquitted by jury of assault

by Jordan Green

The jury took two hours and 20minutes to acquit AJ Blake of twocharges of assaulting a female onJuly 29, after two days of conflictingtestimony by Greensboro policeofficers. A seven-year veteran of the GreensboroPolice Department with four years in theAir Force before that, Blake had beenterminated from the department followingan administrative hearing almost two weeksearlier. He has appealed that decision tointerim City Manager Bob Morgan. A black officer whose mother isHonduran, Blake has become a symbol andan object of controversy. One of 39 blackofficers suing the police department forracial discrimination and a former memberof the gang unit who has corroboratedclaims by the Latin Kings organization thatthe department is engaged in anti-Latinoprejudice, mistreatment and harassment,Blake has attained the status for some of awhistleblower and an honest cop. To others,Blake represents a pattern of bad behaviorby black officers.The racially diverse jury’s decisionoverturned a decision by District CourtJudge Joseph Turner to convict Blake ofassaulting Lorraine Galloway, the girlfriendof Greensboro police Sgt. Craig Myrick,and of assaulting Sandra Sanchez, hisgirlfriend. The Rev. Cardes Brown, oneof Blake’s supporters, said the officer wasterminated solely on the basis of the allegedassault of Galloway, and the police internalinvestigation did not address the allegedassault against Sanchez.What no one disputes is that Greensboropolice officers and their guests were drinkingheavily at the Greensboro Police Club onAir Harbor Road on the frigid night of Jan.16, 2009.The defense introduced as evidence a flierattached to the e-mailed birthday invitationfor Officer Mike Caudle that joked “we’llsee how many Jager-bombs the old mancan stand.” There was a board at the club totally the number Jager-bombs — a drink thatmixes a shot of Jagermeister liqueur with aquantity of Red Bull energy drink — eachcontestant could down. Blake testified thathe drank four or five Jager-bombs and twoand a half beers. Sanchez, the designateddriver, drank half a beer. Galloway said shealso drank four to five Jager-bombs. Myrick,her date, acknowledged drinking four.Sgt. Ronald Sizemore, Blake’s supervisoron the gang unit, was too intoxicated togive a statement during the initial policeinvestigation, Cpl. RR Neal testified. Blake has said that he and Sanchez werethe only two people of color who attended the party. Blake saidhe brought two Latin music CDs, and gave salsa dancing lessons duringthe evening. When several female officers crowded around Blake, Sanchezgot mad. Blake testified that she flirted in front of him to make himjealous. He finally lost his temper when he saw Sanchez flirt with amember of the Guilford County paramedic team – a job to which Sanchez,a county health department employee, aspired. (Later, various witnesseswould testify that Sanchez state that Blake had accused her of givingthe paramedic oral sex, but it was untrue.) They both now concur thatBlake said he told Sanchez that after five years of dating, if shecouldn’t trust him she never would.

He took off his promisering and told her their relationship was over. Blake followed Sanchezinto the women’s restroom, where they continued to argue. Tothat point, all parties are in agreement, but the events surroundingBlake and Sanchez’s departure from the police club are a matter ofdispute between the couple and many of the other guests. The juryapparently found Blake and Sanchez’s testimony more credible. Later,in the parking lot, their verbal argument continuing and a crowdgathering around, Blake admitted to calling Sanchez a “whore.” Hedenied calling his girlfriend “a fucking spic,” explaining, “My motherwould kill me if she heard I called someone a spic.” (OfficerChristopher Schultheis testified that Blake used the racial epithetagainst Sanchez.) Blake admits to kicking Sanchez’s car door, snappinghis cell phone in two, throwing his police ID down in the parking lotand telling Myrick: “F**k it.” The reason for tossing his police IDdown and uttering a profanity, Blake said, was his anticipation thatMyrick had come to confront him about his purported assault againstGalloway. Galloway and Schultheis said they had both stood ateither side of the door watching from separate windows as Blake andSanchez left, but only Galloway observed Blake’s alleged assaultagainst Sanchez. “He ran and kicked her in the back,” Gallowaysaid. “It was with some pretty good force. I was surprised. I couldn’tbelieve he was doing this. Secondly I couldn’t believe he was doingthis in public with no regard for the consequences.” Sancheztestified that she was never kicked or struck in any way by Blake.Officer Christa Leonard, a crime scene investigator, testified that shewas initially called to the police club to take photographs ofGalloway’s alleged injury, but was later told there might be anadditional assault. Upon meeting with Sanchez later thatmorning, Leonard said she saw no marks on the white coat Sanchez hadworn, nor any markings on her back. Sanchez’s statement that day toDetective James Schwochow that she had not been assaulted wasconsistent with the lack of physical evidence. Sanchez did testify thatshe got her heel caught in the wooden walkway and stumbled, butregained her balance by extending her arms. Galloway and Schultheistestified that following Blake’s alleged kick to Sanchez’s back,Galloway opened the door and said, “You’re not going to do thatanymore.” (On this point, Blake concurs.) Galloway testified that Blake“ran towards me and grabbed me by the throat and shoved me back.” Underquestioning from Assistant District Attorney Howard Neumann, she saidshe wasn’t sure if she fell. “I didn’t remember some of that untilrecently. I stumbled…. Officer Schultheis assisted me.” ForSchultheis’ part, he recalled that Blake “took his hand and grabbed heraround the neck and shoved her back into the police club. She stumbledand went down to her knee. I asked her if she was okay.” There was nodispute about whether Blake touched Galloway, only about the nature ofthe contact. Blake testified that he turned and found Galloway aboutsix inches away from him. He said he used a move known as “creatingdistance” that is a standard part of police training. He testified thathe extended his right hand, placed it below Galloway’s throat and aboveher chest line and gently pushed her back. Leonard testified that shesaw some “slight redness to the right side of the neck” when sheexamined Galloway on the night of the alleged assault. On the secondday of testimony, defense attorney Kenneth Free Jr. showed Leonard apicture of Galloway from the night of the party, and said, “It appearsshe is smiling a little bit?” “Yes,” Leonard said. DetectiveSchwochow’s testimony revealed the significant stock the GuilfordCounty District Attorney’s office placed on Blake’s prosecution.Schwochow acknowledged that after interviewing Sanchez and searching invain for evidence of injury the day after the party, he filed only oneassault charge for Galloway. It would be three weeks before he filed asecond assault charge with a domestic stipulation for Sanchez. “Is it fair to say you were told to take out that warrant?” Free asked.

“Yes, it is,” Schwochow replied. “Is it fair to say you did not want to charge him?” Free asked. “Itis,” Schwochow said. “I was advised by my supervisor, Sgt. JamesMarshall, that there had been a discussion between my supervisors andthe district attorney’s office.” Free returned to thatexchange in his closing argument, after reminding the jurors that theywere bound to return a guilty verdict only if they were certain beyonda reasonable doubt that Blake had perpetrated the alleged assaults. “Iasked [Schwochow]: ‘Did you want to charge him?’” Free said. “‘No.’Ordered to. Three weeks later. You could ask, ‘Why?’ But you don’t haveto. That’s not your job. You duty is to let your word speak theeverlasting truth.” Galloway and Myrick had sat behind theprosecution table for much of the trial, and were seated in thecourtroom when the verdict was rendered. Galloway, an investigativeinstructor at the Justice Academy in Salemburg, had made it clearduring testimony that she did not relish her role. “This has been sixmonths ago, and I try not to think about this every day,” she said,“because, to be honest with you, it’s been painful.” When theclerk read the two verdicts — not guilty on both counts — Blake barelyallowed himself a smile. Later, in the hallway, he was asked whatimpact the verdicts might have on the larger question of racialdiscrimination within the department and in its treatment of Latinocommunity members. “I think it’s going to reiterate my point stronger,” Blake said, “that there’s a problem in the police department.”

Galloway testified that Blake ‘ran towards me and grabbed me by the throat and shoved me back.’