Man held in officer's death is freed

June 06, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,Sun Staff Writer

UPPER MARLBORO -- A man who was once accused of killing a police officer and who was beaten by police during his arrest walked out of a Prince George's County jail last night, and his lawyers vowed to sue the officers who beat him.

Jeffrey C. Gilbert, 26, of Lanham left the Prince George's County Detention Center shortly after 8:30 p.m. and was all smiles as about a dozen family members flocked around him, holding helium-filled balloons and praying.

They shouted "Praise the Lord!" after they finished a prayer and let the balloons sail into the air.

Mr. Gilbert, who appeared tired and seemed to be limping, got into the back seat of a white Ford van and was driven away.

He did not speak to the throng of reporters outside the jail, but family members and his attorneys were not as reticent.

Terry Roberts, one of Mr. Gilbert's attorneys, said a civil rights lawsuit alleging excessive force and violation of Mr. Gilbert's Fourth Amendment rights is "imminent."

"There will be federal and state claims made very soon. $l Somebody's going to have to explain," he said. The lawsuit will be filed against the county and the officers who are alleged to have beaten Mr. Gilbert during his arrest, Mr. Roberts said.

The attorney said his legal team also will look at why Mr. Gilbert was arrested in the first place, saying there seemed to be a great deal of contradicting evidence that police ignored.

Police have maintained that they beat Mr. Gilbert after he "violently" resisted arrest.

Robert Lee Green, Mr. Gilbert's stepfather, was indignant and furiously berated county police.

"These guys were thugs," he said, referring to the arresting officers. "It's typical Prince George's County. A lot of police brutality goes on here. I don't think for a moment that he resisted arrest."

Mr. Green said Mr. Gilbert expected to have a quiet evening at home with his relatives and girlfriend.

He accused county police of having a "KKK mentality" and called the officers who beat Mr. Gilbert a "would-be lynch mob, hell-bent on revenge against an innocent man. They need some sensitivity training."

Mr. Gilbert had been jailed since his arrest last month. His attorneys said he was unjustly beaten by police officers looking for the killer of Cpl. John Novabilski, who was gunned down with a machine gun April 28 outside a Kentland liquor store. Police said three witnesses identified Mr. Gilbert as the killer.

Prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Mr. Gilbert after new evidence pointed to the likelihood that another man, Ralph McLean of Landover, was the gunman. Mr. McLean fatally shot himself in the head May 29 during a wild gunbattle with authorities in Greenbelt moments after he shot and killed FBI Agent William H. Christian Jr.

The gun Mr. McLean used to kill himself was a 9 mm Beretta that had been stolen from Corporal Novabilski. Police said Mr. McLean also had a MAC-11 fully automatic assault pistol that had been used to kill Corporal Novabilski and Agent Christian.

The fact that Mr. McLean had the dead officer's gun and the weapon used to kill him prompted county State's Attorney Jack B. Johnson to re-evaluate the evidence.

Mr. Johnson dropped the murder charge Friday, but Mr. Gilbert remained jailed without bail on a probation violation. He also was held on $50,000 bail on an unrelated charge of robbery with a deadly weapon.

A judge lifted the no-bail provision yesterday and set bail for the probation violation at $5,000. The $50,000 bail for the robbery charge was unchanged.

County authorities have defended their decision to arrest Mr. Gilbert, and they said an investigation seeking possible links between Mr. Gilbert and Mr. McLean is continuing.

Douglas J. Wood, one of Mr. Gilbert's attorneys, said the police were scrambling to cover their mistakes.

The FBI has started an investigation to determine whether Mr. Gilbert's civil rights were violated when he allegedly was beaten by officers after he was taken into custody.

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