A former police officer suffered terrible harassment at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department for reporting an incident of police brutality. The New York Daily News reports that, before all this started, Detective Joseph Crystal was actually one of the department’s rising stars. But that quickly ended, and all his problems started when he reported a fellow officer for beating a handcuffed suspect.
Crystal was such a star that he was promoted to detective within two years of joining Baltimore’s police department. He led his violent crimes unit in gun arrests. And then he made the mistake of reporting the beating, and the entire department turned on him.
The Daily News reports that, on the night the beating happened, Crystal first called his parents, who were former NYPD officers themselves. They told him that he already knew what he needed to do, and that once he lost his integrity, he would never get it back.
He called his sergeant to report the incident, who responded by saying:
If you snitch, your career is done. Nobody’s going to work with you.
Another officer reportedly told him:
People don’t like you, and you need to watch your back.
After the sergeant and the officer involved in the incident were formally charged, a sergeant called Crystal out of the blue and said:
You better pray to God that you’re not the star witness.
Other officers refused to ride with him, or provide backup. All of this is a sad testament to how tight-knit a group law enforcement is. They’ve got each other’s backs, which, for the most part, is a good thing. However, some departments have cultures that take that to an extreme, and they’ll keep their mouths shut, and their eyes averted, even when a fellow officer does something blatantly wrong, like unnecessarily beating a suspect.
The suspect in this situation didn’t pull a weapon. He didn’t try to charge at the officers, or struggle violently to get away even after he was cuffed — so nobody can say that he had it coming because the officers were merely defending themselves. The Daily News reports that Crystal saw them take the suspect from a house he had broken into, and then return a little later. So the officers involved couldn’t make the case that they’d feared for their safety, or for the safety of innocent people, when they mercilessly beat the suspect.
Crystal saw them take the cuffed suspect back into the house, and then he heard the sounds of a beating, and then they brought the suspect back out. The suspect was having trouble standing, and his shirt was torn. Crystal knew what had happened.
The taunts weren’t the worst that happened to Crystal. He and his wife came home the day after Thanksgiving, in 2012, to find a dead rat on the windshield of their car. The rat had a note attached, which simply said:
We know where you live.
So, the taunts progressed to outright threats, all because Crystal tried to do the right thing. What this really shows is the depths to which some departments will sink to protect their own, even when they shouldn’t.
What happened between Crystal and the Baltimore Police Department is exactly what’s wrong with so many police departments these days, and with our society in general.
Whistleblowers like Crystal shouldn’t have to face this kind of fear and harassment for doing the right thing.
The Baltimore Sun reports that Crystal has filed a suit against the Baltimore Police Department, seeking $2.5 million in damages. The suit says that the department failed to protect him from retaliation, as is required under law, and that he left voluntarily because his career, as his sergeant had warned him, was done. He now lives in Florida, and works for a police department there.