Officer Joe Crystal knows the consequences of reporting police brutality. He endured years of threats, shunning, insults and treatment that placed him at undue physical risk until he finally resigned from the Baltimore Police Department and sued.
In 2008, when Crystal was in his late 20s, he applied for a position with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). His family history included police service, as his father was a member of the NYPD. Crystal received high test scores from the police academy and a Commissioner’s Award for the trainee showing the most leadership.
After 1 year with the BPD, he was promoted to detective with the Violent Crimes Impact Section, in which he was supposed to get guns and drugs off Baltimore streets. According to one anonymous BPD officer, “He was a really good detective when he was here.”
The police brutality incident that Crystal reported is rather involved. Suffice it to say that on October 27, 2011, Crystal witnessed two officers throw a handcuffed suspect to the ground, punch and kick him, breaking his ankle and ripping his shirt. Crystal reported the incident the next day to Sgt. Robert Amador, who told Crystal to keep a lid on it. Crystal discovered that the officers who brutalized the suspect lied about the circumstances in their report.
Crystal kept trying to move up the chain, telling appropriate authorities about the incident and because of his honesty and persistence, his life became hell. When he was on the job and pursuing suspects, he would sometimes call for backup but be ignored. He found a dead rat on his car windshield. He was told that his career was “fucked.” He lost his security clearance with the FBI. He was put on midnight shifts. He was often transferred to new departments and forced to clean out his office with little notice.
Despite the intimidation and shunning, Crystal testified against the 2 officers, who were convicted. One was convicted of assault and obstruction of justice, was sentenced to 45 days in jail and resigned from the BPD. The other was convicted of misconduct, put on probation and retired with a full pension. All charges against the beaten suspect were dropped.
As the abuse continued, Crystal became increasingly disheartened about working for the BPD: “You know that sickening feeling you get when someone is after you? That’s how I felt every day.” Crystal left the BPD applied to other police departments but was not hired after background checks, without explanation.
Crystal had enough, so he sued the BPD and Police Commissioner Batts. His case is moving through the judicial system now.
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