Mistrial declared in suit against hospital police

July 29, 1994|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Sun Staff Writer

A Carroll judge presiding over a $5 million lawsuit against two Springfield Hospital Center police officers declared a mistrial yesterday after he learned that a defense attorney had failed to disclose a crucial piece of evidence uncovered more than a month before trial.

Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. declared the mistrial at the request of Baltimore attorney Mark A. Epstein, who represents the plaintiff, Ida Hawkins of Woodlawn.

Mr. Epstein asked for the mistrial after Assistant Attorney General Timothy J. Paulus told Judge Beck during the lunch recess yesterday -- the trial's fourth day -- that he had just learned that a report, which he believed could help vindicate his client, may not have been provided to Mrs. Hawkins.

Mr. Paulus said the report had the potential to refute Mrs. Hawkins' claims that his client -- Officer Ricky Hinkle -- uttered a racist remark and mistreated the 54-year-old nursing assistant when she was arrested after two traffic stops on the night of June 27, 1990.

The disclosure persuaded Judge Beck to end the trial and dismiss the jury of four men and two women, who had been listening to four days of often tedious testimony.

Under Maryland trial rules, a judge may not allow a jury to consider evidence that was unavailable to the other party in the lawsuit.

"Allowing the jury to deliberate, knowing what I know, I feel would amount to fiction," the judge said angrily from the bench. "They could create a blemish on the officer's reputation that might not be deserved."

The new evidence wasn't needed to help the officer, according to two jurors who asked that their names not be used. The jurors said they were prepared to make a finding against Mrs. Hawkins.

"We took a vote, and within minutes, all of us decided the officer didn't do anything wrong," a juror said. The informal vote was taken after the mistrial announcement.

Mrs. Hawkins filed suit in 1992, claiming that Officer Hinkle and Officer John Craven -- who Judge Beck dropped from the three-count suit Wednesday afternoon -- treated her unfairly and in a racist manner when she was stopped for a broken tail light and running a stop sign on her way to work.

In her suit, she said Officer Hinkle called her a "savage" while she was sitting handcuffed in a patrol car after the traffic stops had escalated.

Officer Hinkle denies uttering the remark, and the report his attorney disclosed yesterday shows that another officer -- not Officer Hinkle -- was disciplined for making a disparaging comment.

According to the handwritten report, the other officer was given a verbal warning for not "following proper procedure." According to Mr. Epstein and Mr. Paulus, the officer -- who is no longer on the Springfield Hospital force -- said, "You or I should move the fat bitch's car."

While Mr. Paulus said the report vindicated his client, Mr. Epstein said it supported Mrs. Hawkins.

"Her truthfulness has been vindicated," the lawyer said.

Mr. Paulus called Judge Beck's decision "very sad."

Officer Hinkle declined to comment after the mistrial ruling, which results in pulling Officer Craven back into the suit.

Essentially, the judge's ruling means the suit starts all over again.

At a hearing late next month or early in September, the judge will determine how much of Mrs. Hawkins' legal bill will be paid by the attorney general's office.

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