Brutality claim settled against three officers

August 01, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

A 1990 brutality complaint against the Howard County Police Department, which prompted public protest and questions about the apparent suicide of one of the complainants, has been settled in secret a month before a $6.5 million federal lawsuit was to go to trial.

Attorneys for the county and the family of Mickey Bowie and his twin brother, the late Carl Jonathan "Jon" Bowie, settled the Bowies' suit alleging that police beat the brothers while breaking up a party in a Jessup motel in January 1990.

Three county police officers named as defendants in the lawsuit, Ricky Johnson, Victor Riemer and David Snow, were not parties to the settlement, but the suit's claims against them were dropped.

"My clients are very pleased with the terms of the settlement and they are happy to move on with their lives," said Jo M. Glasco, the Bowie family's lawyer. The settlement included a confidentiality agreement that prohibits disclosure of its terms, including how much, if any, money was paid to the plaintiffs.

Asked why her clients settled, Ms. Glasco said there was little she could say without violating the agreement. "All I can say is that they were pleased with the settlement. My clients feel their rights have been vindicated and they're interested in moving on with their lives," she said.

Assistant County Solicitor Rebecca Laws, said the confidentiality of the settlement was not unusual. "This case, like every case that I know of that the county's ever settled, is confidential," Ms. Laws said.

She refused to say whether the plantiffs received any money, but explained that if any money was paid by the county, it would come from the county's risk management fund -- the same fund used to pay traffic accident claims.

Clarke F. Ahlers, the lawyer who represents Officer Riemer, said he had no idea why the county agreed to settle.

"I have no idea why any defendant would settle this case. It's obvious why the plaintiff would want to settle, because it's money," he said. "We refused to pay even a penny and were completely ready for trial," Mr. Ahlers said.

The lawsuit dealt only with charges of excessive force used in the January 1990 incident at the Red Roof Inn in Jessup. It did not deal with the May 1990 death of Jon Bowie, who was found hanged on a baseball backstop outside Oakland Mills High School. The death was ruled a suicide by county police, but family members questioned that finding. Subsequent Investigations by the state police and a county grand jury found no evidence of foul play in the death but insufficient evidence of suicide.

Bowyer G. Freeman, president of the Howard County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the confidential settlement "typical police stuff -- as far as I'm concerned, this underscores the need for a civilian review board."

"My concern is whether or not the police department has changed any of its training, policies or any of the things associated [with] that young man's arrest," Mr. Freeman said.

The original federal complaint, asking for $1.2 million, was filed after the grand jury probe ended in 1991. An amended complaint asking for $6.5 million was filed in 1992.

Originally, only Officer Riemer and Officer Johnson were accused of using unnecessary force in the suit. Officer Snow was added later by the plaintiffs after he gave a deposition saying he helped in the arrest.

Mickey Bowie, who was 19 at the time, alleged that Officer Riemer wrestled him to the ground and smashed his face into the ground several times. Officer Riemer told a police internal affairs investigator that Bowie had fought him during the arrest and he pushed Mr. Bowie's face into the ground to keep him under control.

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