Detective sues defendant to stem attacks on police

January 15, 1995|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

A Howard County police detective is suing a jailed Silver Spring woman who is charged with hitting him with her car when he tried to arrest her -- a rare case of an officer turning plaintiff to try to thwart violence against police.

Detective Patrick McDonald, 32, is seeking $1.5 million in damages from Patricia F. Myers, 43, who is being held without bond at the Howard County Detention Center on charges of assault with attempt to murder the officer during a Dec. 8 arrest in Columbia.

The officer's Ellicott City attorney, Timothy J. McCrone, says the civil suit, filed Dec. 15 in Howard County Circuit Court, was brought in an attempt to stem incidents of violence against officers -- not to get a large cash settlement.

"This lawsuit is an effort to put people on notice: Officers are not fair game for people to hurt," Mr. McCrone said. "If people try to kill you, you should be able to sue them."

Legal experts say more police unions have begun encouraging officers to file suits when they are injured in the line of duty. Another Howard County police officer prevailed in a similar suit last year.

In 1993, the latest year for statewide statistics, 4,126 law enforcement officers were assaulted while on duty -- 32 assaults for every 100 officers -- according to the Maryland State Police. The assaults reflect a prevailing disrespect for law officers, state police officials said.

Not practical

While assaults are frequent, civil suits filed by officers are both rare and risky, said California attorney Barbara Roberts, a legal adviser to the Arlington, Va.-based International Association of Chiefs of Police. Her firm represents 48 different police agencies in California.

"There is seldom going to be a source for collecting judgment," Ms. Roberts said. "It isn't practical to pursue a lawsuit where the person's not going to get money."

Another reason suits against civilians are uncommon, she said, is the fear that the such suits could hurt officers' reputations or place police agencies under heavy scrutiny.

"Most officers weigh the time in court and decide if they really want to pursue it," she said.

Officers of the Howard County Police Officers Association are told about legal options they have as citizens, but there is no official policy dictating what actions to take, said Dan Besseck, union secretary.

"We try to let them know what their rights are, but it's up to the individual police officers as to what they're going to do," Mr. Besseck said.

"We're not made to be targeted," he said. "We have families we want to go home to."

Detective McDonald hired his attorney, Mr. McCrone, shortly after the Dec. 8 incident.

The officer said he was leading an investigation into loan applications Ms. Myers filed with the Household Finance Co. in the 10500 block of Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia's Town Center.

When the woman returned with a friend to pick up money at the loan company office, Detective McDonald approached her car, showed his identification badge and ordered her to stop. The suit says that Ms. Myers then drove her car at him, knocked him onto the hood, then backed up to force him off. Other officers stopped the vehicle and arrested the women.

"There's no doubt in my mind she intended to kill me in an attempt to get away," said Detective McDonald, who was treated at Howard County General Hospital and released.

Ms. Myers, contacted in the Howard County Detention Center, declined to comment.

Detective McDonald has been in other dangerous situations during his five years on the force. On April 29, 1993, David Scott Shipley, 25, of Baltimore tried to take his gun when the officer was investigating a shoplifting complaint against the man at a Jessup shopping center.

During the struggle, Shipley, high on PCP, snatched the officer's pepper spray and blinded him with it. Detective McDonald fired six rounds into the man in what a jury called self-defense. Detective McDonald was treated at a hospital. Shipley was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison last April after a plea agreement on a battery charge.

'Traumatic incidents'

"They were both traumatic incidents," the detective said. "I don't think you're ever over it. It certainly angers me like any victim of crime."

The officer said his lawsuit -- which asks for compensatory and punitive damages for injuries to his right leg and mental distress -- will help his healing.

In the earlier case, Howard County narcotics Detective Michael Oles III was awarded a combined $1 million settlement last April against two Columbia men who attacked him Aug. 21, 1991.

The two men, who tried to steal money from the undercover officer and his informant, were arrested on felony assault charges. A third Columbia man reached out-of-court settlements with both victims.

Detective Oles' Columbia attorney, Clarke Ahlers, said his client hasn't received any money, but the lawyer is still working to collect. He says that his real victory was for police safety.

"It's not rational to hit a police officer," Mr. Ahlers said. "We sued. We haven't collected it yet, but if they win the lottery, we win, too."

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