A Prince George’s County undercover narcotics police officer who shot and killed an unarmed college student, who he chased from Prince George’s County, Maryland to Fairfax County, Virginia, was held responsible for his wrongful death yesterday by a jury that awarded $3.7 million to the family of the man who was killed.
Terrell N. Roberts III, the personal injury attorney for the victim’s family, noted after the verdict that neither the state of Virginia nor the Justice Department filed charges against the officer, nor did Prince George’s County police find any wrongdoing by the officer. Yet a Prince George’s County jury looking at the same facts found differently.
These types of claims are nothing new in Prince George’s County, who paid $4.6 million in jury verdicts and out-of-court settlements in lawsuits in 2004. In the last 5 years, not including this verdict, the county paid $16.3 million in jury awards and settlements alleging excessive force or other forms of misconduct or negligence by P.G. County police officers.
Our lawyers have had many dealings with Prince George’s County police in auto accidents and other personal injury cases, and our experience has been very favorable. Still, some police officers in P.G. County are costing the county a ton of money. I am sure that 98% of the officers, who are doing their jobs as they should, would love to have a share of the $16.3 million that P.G. County has rolled out over the last five years.
It is easy to blame the police officers in these kinds of cases because they are the most obvious culprit. But rogue police officers are hardly the only problem. I can’t specifically speak to P.G. County. But in many jurisdictions, the police foment the problem with sloppy — intentionally and otherwise — investigations and cover-ups that would stop the next debacle before it starts.
2017 Update: 11 Years Later It Is Worse
I wrote this post in 2006 but these same problems are still with us 11 years later, most notably with the Freddie Gray tragedy which has had its impact on Baltimore City jurors. But Freddie Gray was just our local experience with this issue. From Ferguson, Missouri to North Charleston, South Carolina, New York City, and many other cities, real questions are being raised regarding racial discrimination by U.S. law enforcement.
There needs to be a zero-tolerance for abuse of police power or excessive force. Too often, the opposite is true. Excessive force is defended or they ignore evidence supporting a finding of excessive force contrary to their Internal Affairs standard operating procedures.
Body Cameras Not the Answer?
I hoped that police cameras would make a difference because both sides of the badge would shape up when the camera is rolling. But I read a report of an October 2017 study is suggesting that body cameras have little impact on police behavior. They may have byproducts that benefit the community, but they also might not make the breakthrough I hoped for. This means we will have to make progress on our own. Which will be tough.