Man shot during arrest on loitering charge wins record award of $1.5 million Jury holds officer and state liable

February 12, 1993|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff Writer

A man shot while being arrested on a loitering charge has been awarded more than $1.5 million by a jury, a figure described as the largest judgment ever against a Baltimore police officer.

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury ruled that Officer Gabriel Owen Bewley and the state of Maryland should reimburse Cedric Michael Meade $45,000 for incurred and projected medical expenses and $1.5 million for pain and suffering stemming from the shooting nearly two years ago in a West Baltimore alley.

The previous record judgment against a Baltimore police officer was $50,000, said Robert C. Verderaime, an attorney who has represented city officers in civil cases since 1968 but did not represent Officer Bewley.

Mr. Meade was led handcuffed into the courtroom Wednesday to hear the jury's verdict. He was being held at the city detention center in lieu of $5,000 bail after being arrested Monday on drug distribution charges.

During the two-week civil trial, the jury was presented conflicting accounts of the events leading to the shooting.

Mr. Meade, 21, said that on April 26, 1991, he had been waiting for a 1:54 a.m. bus at the corner of Whitelock Street and Druid Hill Avenue, an area known for drug trafficking, when the officer ordered him and a friend named Howard Mack over to the police cruiser. He said the officer frisked them and, after releasing the friend, said to Mr. Meade, "I'm going to make an example of you."

Mr. Meade said he fled, leading the officer on a chase. He said he was shot in the upper abdomen while he lay prone in an alley.

His lawyer, William H. Murphy Jr., told the jury during closing arguments Wednesday that Mr. Meade lost about a foot of his intestine and half his stomach during several operations. Denying that his client is a drug dealer, Mr. Murphy said Mr. Meade was a student-athlete who also worked at a fast food restaurant.

Officer Bewley, 24, offered a different account of the shooting. Then a two-year veteran of the force, he had been ordered at the start of his shift to enforce the loitering law, he testified. After twice seeing Mr. Meade hanging around a corner liquor store, he decided to arrest him, the officer testified.

The officer denied frisking Mr. Meade and said he drew his gun because the man was running with his arm tucked close to his abdomen as if he might have a gun. The officer said his Glock 17 9 mm handgun went off accidentally during a struggle with the man.

Mr. Meade was charged with loitering, assault and battery and failing to obey a police officer's order, but the charges were placed on an inactive docket.

During closing arguments Wednesday, Mr. Murphy said: "Loitering is the most minor of crimes. It doesn't get any more minor than that. You don't take out your Glock and chase someone for loitering."

Mr. Murphy also told the jury that Officer Bewley was a skilled liar on the witness stand.

"Where you live and what your experiences are determine what you think of police," he said. "This case is about how they really are on the street. So when he says he didn't frisk him, it's not true."

The award stemmed from two counts charging Mr. Meade's right against unlawful arrest had been violated. Judge Ellen M. Heller ruled that the officer did not have probable cause to arrest the man, meaning the defendants were liable under the constitutional counts, which required no proof of malice. On those counts, the jury was left only to decide on the amount of damages.

Officer Bewley, now assigned to the force's tactical unit, is, along with the state, legally liable for the judgment, said his lawyer, Randall J. Craig Jr.

Herbert R. Weiner, legal counsel to the Fraternal Order of Police lodge, which represents Baltimore police officers, said the city has historically indemnified officers for judgments in cases where the officer was acting within the scope of his duties on the job. A Police Department internal investigation into the Meade shooting had cleared Officer Bewley of any wrongdoing, Mr. Craig said.

Mr. Craig predicted that the judgment will be overturned on appeal. Also, both Mr. Craig and Mr. Murphy said, the million-dollar award may be subject to reduction under a state law capping "noneconomic" damages at $350,000.

Mr. Meade was arrested Monday and charged with selling crack cocaine in the 1500 block of Whitelock Street -- about a block from the shooting scene. Also arrested Monday was another suspect identified as Howard Mack, 20, of the 2400 block of Francis St.

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