An off-duty Baltimore firefighter who witnesses said grabbed a man by the throat at a May public meeting concerning the Downtown Bike Network pleaded guilty Monday to one count of second-degree assault.
Charles Mudra, a Baltimore City Fire Department employee of 10 years, received a year of unsupervised probation as punishment for the May 14 assault, court records show. He entered his plea in Baltimore City District Court.
City salary records records say he works as an emergency vehicle support driver for the department.
His attorney, Chaz Ball, said Tuesday that Mudra “is looking forward to moving on with his life. He’s been a firefighter… in both New York and Baltimore for much of his adult life and a public servant. It was an unfortunate incident, but it’s not reflective of who he is as a person.”
Ball called the May altercation an “unfortunate interaction between two private citizens, neither of which—Mr. Davis nor Mr. Mudra—were there in their public capacity from their jobs. It was a political discussion that got heated, and obviously it was unfortunate what took place.”
Baltimore City Fire Department spokesman Chief Roman Clark said in May that the “department [was] aware that there was a situation, and currently, it’s under investigation,” but declined to identify Mudra at the time.
Blair Skinner, another fire department spokesperson, said Wednesday morning that Mudra is still employed as an emergency vehicle driver. All employees charged with an offense “have to submit court documents stating their outcomes,” she said, after which the department reviews each case to determine if further departmental investigation or charges are needed.
Witnesses had said the choking incident happened just after the issue of fire code came up during the public meeting about redesigning pieces of the downtown Bike Network at Madison and Centre streets.
Ryan Patterson told Baltimore Fishbowl “the crowd jumped out of their seats, and this white, bald guy in the back of the room lifted this young, black guy up by the throat.” Another attendee, Nicole Runde, said she saw a man “reach across a row of chairs and grab a guy by the neck,” and later “pull him kind of towards the wall.” Multiple witnesses said Mudra then left the room, and he was approached but not detained by a school resource officer on his way out.
The victim, Austin Davis, reported the assault the following day. Davis, a cyclist, who worked for the Baltimore City Department of Planning at the time, though an agency spokeswoman said he was there as a private citizen and not representing the department. (Davis now works for the mayor’s office.)
The altercation was one of several clashes between firefighters and bike infrastructure advocates from this year. In July, the Baltimore City Council’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee called a hearing about a video the fire department filmed outside the homes of Davis and Liz Cornish, executive director of cycling advocacy nonprofit Bikemore, on Maryland Avenue.
Cornish wrote in a letter that BCFD setting up a firetruck outside her home “felt personal, it felt threatening, and made me feel less safe in my home.” Two council members, Eric Costello and Ryan Dorsey, said the act implied intimidation.
Fire Chief Niles Ford testified that the department had filmed the video there to show the challenges of operating fire apparatus on streets with bike lanes installed away from the curb, aiming to convince the council not to strip out fire-clearance width rules from the city’s fire code. Street clearance first became a matter of public dispute with cycling infrastructure after Canton residents protested a configuration of a two-way bike lane in spring of 2017.
“It wasn’t a goal to try to intimidate anybody,” Ford said of the video to lawmakers. “That is not what the fire department does.”
The council wound up approving the change to Baltimore’s fire code last week, adopting more flexible language for street design. Mayor Catherine Pugh has not signed the ordinance into law; her office said last week that she was “still reviewing the legislation.”
At the same hearing, local attorney Alyssa Domzal testified that a city firefighter had also targeted her as a cyclist. Domzal said she had been riding her bike on Falls Road in June when a man driving a pickup truck sporting a BCFD decal “followed me in unsafe, illegal passing distance at high speed, and then pulled in front of me and yelled, ‘I still hate you.'”
“I think sometimes, there’s an idea that there’s a war or some sort of ongoing fight between fire department and cyclists,” Domzal said, standing feet from Chief Ford. She asked that the department investigate the incident, arguing the BCFD employee “in his personal life” was “using his car to try to actively make the city less safe.”
Ford, after at first saying that he was unaware of “multiple” altercations between cyclists and firefighters, said he was aware of the incident and one other. The department had not identified the employee involved, he said, but they were looking into a name sent to them.
The department has not responded to a message asking for an update on any investigation into the incident Domzal mentioned, or the name of the employee involved.
Speaking on both incidents Tuesday, Cornish said in a statement: “A firefighter pleaded guilty to assault. Another ran a bicyclist off the road. As far as we know, they’re still employed despite BCFD’s pledge to city council these matters would be addressed.”
“The mayor has an opportunity to move forward on this unnecessarily contentious process and sign the bill passed unanimously by council. Until then, hundreds of millions of dollars in economic development and transportation projects are in jeopardy and the lack of action will continue to embolden bad actors like Charles Mudra.”
This story has been updated.
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