RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Two Richmond police officers facing misdemeanor assault and battery charges linked to an alleged “fogging” incident during civil unrest in May 2020 have reached an agreement with the city, but specific details of the deal remain unclear.
Christopher Brown and Mark Janowski appeared in court Friday for a hearing where city prosecutors initially indicated that a plea agreement had been reached between the parties. When Brown was arraigned, he was stopped by Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant as he began to plead not guilty to the three misdemeanor charges.
“The commonwealth isn’t gaining anything by this…to take pleas of not guilty doesn’t advance the ball for the commonwealth,” Marchant said. “So, what are we accomplishing?”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Colette McEachin and the attorneys for Brown and Janowski — Peter B. Baruch, Edward K. Nickel and Jacqueline M. Reiner – acknowledged that it was not the time to accept pleas in the case and the parties agreed to make a joint motion to have the case continued for six months.
Whether the agreement makes way for the charges to be dismissed or reduced were not shared during the hearing. But McEachin and the officers’ attorneys agreed with Marchant’s assessment that Brown and Janowski would be tried on all charges if they don’t comply with the agreement by the time of the status hearing set for May 19, 2022.
After the hearing, 8News overheard McEachin and Reiner, Brown’s attorney, mention community service as one of the stipulations of the deal but the attorneys said Monday that the case is still pending and declined to comment on the agreement.
“We will be able to discuss this case after final resolution, but we cannot comment until that time,” Baruch wrote in an email to 8News.
Brown and Janowski were indicted by a grand jury in October 2020, the only two officers charged after the panel considered 18 counts against eight Richmond officers following the civil unrest that summer in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis by a police officer.
Brown and Janowski have been accused of using a type of pepper spray called O.C. fogger on three teenagers who were inside a car stopped in traffic at an intersection in the early morning hours of May 31, 2020.
In court documents, city prosecutors claim the young women, ages 17 to 19, were at a red light on North Belvedere Street when they began shouting obscenities at a group of officers in the area.
“As the victims were shouting at the police, one officer in the group of officers shouted to the victims, ‘Why don’t you get out of the car?’ Another officer in the group then said, ‘Spray ‘em, it doesn’t matter, f— it, spray ‘em.’ At that moment, Brown and Janowski left the sidewalk, walked across two travel lanes and approached the passenger side of the victims’ vehicle,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Janowski then allegedly sprayed O.C. fog into the open window “at the heads and faces of the victims,” despite being trained not to do so according to the prosecutor’s filing. Brown followed up and did the same as Janowski, prosecutors claim in court documents.
Prosecutors in the case say there is body-worn camera footage of the alleged incident.
In July, a spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department told 8News that Brown and Janowski are on administrative leave but did not share when they were put on leave, citing a FOIA exemption. It remains unclear whether the officers are still being paid or receiving benefits.
The department did not immediately respond to 8News’ request for comment on their job status.