Coronavirus: Baltimore cop under investigation for coughing at black residents

BALTIMORE — A Baltimore police sergeant is under investigation after video surfaced of him allegedly coughing in the direction of residents standing outside a public housing complex.

Police officials on Tuesday announced an internal investigation into the incident.

“After watching the full video, in its entirety, it is not only disturbing, but incomprehensible, especially considering the high-level of strong and clear guidance that we have provided from the beginning, regarding COVID-19,” Baltimore police Commissioner Michael Harrison said in a statement to multiple media outlets, including the Baltimore Sun. “Members are always expected to be sensitive and professional to the community, but what we saw in the video is alarming because this pandemic is affecting lives not only nationally, worldwide, but right here in our own police department.”

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Harrison said Tuesday that 12 members of the police department had tested positive for COVID-19. Another 67 officers were awaiting test results, and since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 300 officers have placed under quarantine.

The force still had 150 officers quarantined as of Tuesday’s news conference.

The department’s Southwest District, where three of the positive officers are assigned, was also shuttered for several days as the building and patrol cars were sanitized. It has since reopened.

Watch Baltimore city and police officials give an update on COVID-19 in the community below.

Mayor’s Live: COVID-19 Update

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In the profanity-laced video shared Tuesday on social media, the woman recording the footage with a cellphone is heard calling out to the unnamed officer as she and other residents stand outside the Perkins Homes housing complex.

“Hey, Officer Friendly, with the cherry cheeks,” the woman says as he approaches her on the sidewalk, according to the video.

The officer doesn’t respond, but as he walks by the woman, he puts his hand on his chest and starts coughing.

“Oh, I ain’t worried about that (expletive). Y’all get that (expletive). Black people don’t,” the woman tells the officer in the video. “You can cough your white (expletive) back where you live at.”

Watch the entire video below. Warning: The footage contains explicit language.

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She appears to be repeating an early myth of the pandemic, which has since been debunked by health officials, that claimed black people’s skin is resistant to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Data is instead showing that black communities across the country are being disproportionately affected by the illness. According to ProPublica, black residents make up 26% of the population in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin.

Of the 945 COVID-19 cases in Milwaukee County as of Friday morning, black residents made up nearly half. Eighty-one percent of the 27 people who had died at that point were black.

That pattern is being repeated in cities across the nation, ProPublica reported.

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As the Baltimore officer continues to walk by the residents of the housing complex in the video, he can be heard coughing repeatedly. He passes within a couple of feet of the residents, who appear on the video to be spaced apart on the sidewalk.

Health officials have urged people to remain at least 6 feet apart from one another at all times to help stem the spread of the virus.

The public housing residents recoil from the coughing in the video and shout at the officer as he leaves.

“The (expletive) wrong with him?” the woman recording the exchange is heard shouting. “Tell him (expletive) don’t get that (expletive).”

She laughs and tells the officer he needs an extra layer of skin. Despite the laughter, her voice sounds angry.

“Come here coughing like that (expletive) cute,” she says in the video. “I should call the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) on his (expletive) and let them know he just did some dirty (expletive) like that.”

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Harrison said at Tuesday’s COVID-19 update that the department last week implemented daily health checks for officers, including mandatory temperature checks twice a day. Officers are also ordered to wear their provided N95 masks when interacting with the public or responding to calls for service.

“This includes foot patrols and business checks,” Harrison said.

The officer in the video was not wearing a mask.

Brandon Scott, president of the Baltimore City Council, denounced the officer’s actions on Twitter, where he wrote Tuesday that he immediately forwarded the video to Harrison upon being made aware of it.

“COVID-19 is not a joke and this behavior is beyond unacceptable,” Scott tweeted. “When you're in public service, it's your duty to treat everyone with respect, especially when we are dealing with both a public health pandemic and a gun violence epidemic. This is not behavior that we want our police officers, or any of our public servants, to model to residents.”

The department’s Public Integrity Bureau is investigating the incident, according to a statement obtained by Fox Baltimore. Investigators are reviewing the woman’s footage, as well as the officer’s body-worn camera footage.

“A complete investigation will be conducted, and the department hopes that all of its members and the public will continue to work together with respect as we maneuver forward during this challenging time,” the statement said.