Steven Alexander was walking home with groceries after a night shift as an Embassy of Qatar special police officer in 2018 when a taser-drawn Maryland police officer approached him and demanded that he show his credentials.
When Alexander refused, the officer pointed his firearm at him and demanded that he get on the ground. Once he was on the ground, the officer pepper-sprayed Alexander before putting him in handcuffs, according to a lawsuit obtained by Atlanta Black Star.
Former Embassy of Qatar Special Officer Steven Alexander tries to open his eyes after being pepper sprayed by a Maryland police officer while walking through a national park in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Steven Alexander)
As a result, Alexander lost his job, had to fight criminal charges and suffered years of emotional distress, his attorneys said. He is suing Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission Police and the police officer for violating his rights and for excessive force.
Hannah Nallo, one of Alexander’s attorneys, said he has post-traumatic stress from what her client refers to as a “life-or-death scenario.”
“This incident really just changed the course of Steven’s entire life,” Nallo said. “He has a very hard time talking about how the officers really almost took his life. Even though it was a few years ago, now, he remembers it clear as day when he talks to you about it is just like it just happened.”
M-NCPPC Police Officer Mel Proctor said he saw Alexander walking through a parking lot in the park with a hat that read “Special Police.” Proctor accosted Alexander, who told Proctor that he had no reason to stop him and continued walking.
“The subject continued to refuse my commands to stop even after I told him that he was now being detained for investigative purposes,” Proctor wrote in the police report.
Proctor then asked for his credentials, he wrote. The officer said he pulled out his Taser because Alexander was wearing a ballistic vest and “something around his waist with pouches.” He drew his gun because he noticed Alexander had a gun holster on his hip “protruding for under his coat.”
“What are you going to do, shoot me?” Proctor said Alexander asked him.
Alexander’s lawyers said the man begged for his life.
The officer put this gun back in the holster, and he sprayed Alexander in his eyes because he started to unzip his coat after Proctor told him not to, he wrote. He did not have his body-worn camera on during the interaction.
Alexander’s attorneys said he was wearing his work uniform, which includes body armor and a badge that reads, “Special Police Officer.”
While Alexander was dealing with the effects of the pepper spray, Proctor slammed him to the ground by the hood of his coat, put his knee in the man’s back, handcuffed him and sprayed in his face, the lawsuit says.
After restraining Alexander, the lawsuit says Proctor found Alexander’s “valid” work identification card and badge proving his status as a special offer at the Washington, D.C., embassy.
He saw Alexander’s badge hanging from his neck, the lawsuit says, and police insignia on his shirt.
Proctor wrote in his report that Alexander had “numerous expired and one alleged current Special Police Officer Identification cards.”
“I attempted to make contact with persons he allegedly works for only to get voice mails for people other than the name he gave,” Proctor wrote.
Alexander was charged with resisting arrest, obstructing a police officer, failure to obey a reasonable and lawful order that a law enforcement officer makes to prevent a disturbance to the public peace and impersonating a police officer. He spent 10 hours in jail.
Nallo said Proctor went to great lengths to ensure Alexander was terminated from his job, where she said he had a “stellar” record for nine years. Alexander’s supervisor told him he could come back when he resolved the case, Nallo said.
On May 11, 2018, Prince George’s District Court Judge Bryon Bereano dropped all the charges against Alexander and criticized the prosecutor for pursuing the case.
Bereano said there was no one else present during the arrest, so no one was actually disturbed. Bereano also noted that even though Alexander did not comply with the orders initially, he never attempted to run and try to remove or hide the hat.
Bereano said Proctor also testified that Alexander offered to give him the credentials after he asked a couple of times, but the police officer told him it was too late.
“On all four counts: The court finds that even looking at the light most favorable to the state, which the court is supposed to do at this time, that frankly, Mr. State, don’t take this personally, this is not a case that should have gone forward,” Bereano told the prosecutor.
“This is questionable at best, a lawful stop. Mr. Alexander did nothing wrong other than walking through a park after having worked a long, hard day, carrying his belongings from work and carrying his groceries, and a police officer who wasn’t following protocol only exacerbated the situation by making it worse. And that was clear from his own testimony.”
Alexander was never allowed to return to his job. The Qatar Embassy did not respond to requests for comment from Atlanta Black Star.
Alexander wished the incident never happened. He was afraid to go public with the story out of fear that it may traumatize his family.
In his lawsuit, he is seeking monetary damages. A jury must decide how much Alexander would be awarded. The state allows Alexander to get up to $400,000 in damages from a police officer. Lawmakers increased the cap to $600,000 starting in October 2021, but Alexander filed his case before the threshold was raised.
Spokesperson for M-NCPPC Police Prince George’s division LaKeisha Robinson said the agency could not comment on pending litigation. Records show Proctor received a commendable service award in 2020.
Alexander’s attorney Jay Holland said the case is an example of the lack of accountability and broken culture in policing that would allow an officer to attack a citizen who was going along in his everyday life. The legal team hopes Alexander’s case and other cases like it will provoke institutional change in all police departments.
The M-NCPPC Police is also at the center of another lawsuit that provides an inside look at the culture of the department. In the lawsuit also obtained by Atlanta Black Star, a Black M-NCPPC police officer details incidents of racism and humiliation that he was handed down by his superiors, who also discussed inciting race wars and killing Black Lives Matter protesters.
“You don’t leave that at the door when you go out into the field. These are police officers that are coming into contact with us as citizens and are coming into contact with Mr. Alexander,” attorney Veronica Nannis said.
“I think that it kind of does tie back to possibly the environment that they’re in and sort of what is not only tolerated but encouraged, apparently, at Park and Planning.”