Plaintiff describes her fear

September 20, 1994|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,Sun Staff Writer

A Laurel woman who has sued a former county police officer claiming he raped her four years ago while he was on duty testified in federal court yesterday that she was too fearful to resist.

"I was scared that he would beat me," said the woman, who is seeking $70 million in damages. "I had been raped in 1988 and badly beaten. My state of mind was to get out of that car without getting locked up or killed."

But the lawyer for Michael Ziegler, an 18-year veteran of the force, said sex between the two was consensual.

"He will admit that it was a stupid thing to do," Robert Verderaime said during opening arguments. "And he has paid for it in spades."

Mr. Zeigler was charged with rape in the Nov. 15, 1990, incident. He agreed to resign from the department in March 1991 in a plea bargain with prosecutors. The rape charge was dropped and he was convicted of a lesser charge of police misconduct.

Mr. Verderaime told the jury that the woman is lying to make money. He said a witness will testify that the woman admitted to him in a Pasadena bar several weeks after the incident that she was not raped but that she thought she could make $100,000 from the case.

"Mr. Zeigler knows this man, he had arrested him before," Mr. Verderaime said. "So he doesn't particularly like Mr. Zeigler."

The woman, who admitted she had a drug and alcohol problem, testified that she drank a beer and four tequila sunrises at Cheers, a bar on Mountain Road in Pasadena. She said she was upset over personal problems and left the bar at about 1:30 a.m. She said she drove to her former boyfriend's home on 221st Street and noticed Mr. Zeigler's patrol car behind her as she stopped in front of the house.

She said Mr. Zeigler asked her for identification and then offered to drive her home. She said she did not touch him or talk about having sex during the 20-minute ride to Crofton. She said he pulled into a church parking lot on Davidsonville Road and told her he had to check on something.

She said he got out of the car and walked to the side of the church and then came back to the car. He undressed outside the car, she testified, before getting back inside and raping her. He then drove her home and she called the police.

But Mr. Verderaime said it was the woman who initiated the sexual contact as Mr. Zeigler was driving along Route 3 in Crofton.

Before the start of the trial, Judge Alexander Harvey ruled that the jury will not be allowed to hear evidence that Mr. Zeigler was the subject of a rape investigation 15 years ago. In 1979, a Glen Burnie woman complained to police that Mr. Zeigler asked to use her phone while he was in her neighborhood answering a call.

She told investigators he raped her while her children were sleeping in the next room. Although prosecutors declined to press charges, then-Officer Zeigler was suspended for 30 days.

The suit also alleges that department supervisors tolerated sexual harassment to such an extent that it developed into a pattern.

The suit names as co-defendants former Police Chief George W. Wellham III and "unknown and undetermined supervisory personnel."

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