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 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 very differently.
Tese types of claims are nothing new in Prince George’s County, who has 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 accident and other personal injury cases and our experience has generally been very favorable. Still, it is obvious that a small number of police officers in P.G. County are costing the county a ton of money. I am sure that the 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 dolled 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 there is not question that in many jurisdiction, 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
This post was written in 2006 but these same problems are still with us 11 years later, most notably with locally with the Freddie Gray tragedy which has had its own impact on Baltimore City jurors. But Freddie Gray was just our local experience with this issue. Ferguson, Missouri to North Charleston, South Carolina to New York City, to many other cities, real questions are being raised racial discrimination by U.S. law enforcement.
There needs to be zero tolerance for abuse of police power or excessive force. Too often, the opposite is true. Excessive force is either defended or evidence supporting a finding of excessive force is ignored contrary to their Internal Affairs standard operating procedures.
Body Cameras Not the Answer?
I was hopeful that police cameras would make a difference. because both sides of the badge would shape up when the camera is rolling. But I ready a report of an October 2017 study is suggesting that body cameras are have little impact on police behavior. They may have byproducts that benefit the community but they also might not make the type of breakthrough that I hoped for. This means we are going to have to make progress on our own. Which is going to be tough.