Patrolman in bias case was named in '90 suit Brutality claims led to cash settlement

September 30, 1995|By Sheridan Lyons and Dan Thanh Dang | Sheridan Lyons and Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

William R. Goodman Jr., the Baltimore County police officer recently indicted and charged with beating a suspect at the Essex precinct, was a defendant in a 1990 brutality suit, court records show.

William Vernon Wells said in the lawsuit, and again yesterday, that several officers hit him after he was taken from his mother's home in Catonsville the evening of Nov. 7, 1989.

But he said it was Officer Goodman who beat him most severely: twice while he was shackled, and once as he lay in pain in a cell at the Wilkins precinct -- an account that differs from one given by the county attorney who handled the case. Mr. Wells sustained a broken wrist and ribs, and damage to his eye, according to court records. The county settled the lawsuit for about $20,000 -- a move designed to avoid publicity and protect the reputations of the officers involved, the county attorney said.

Last week, a county grand jury charged Officer Goodman under Maryland's hate-crime statute with uttering racial epithets in July, and beating and punching 24-year-old Melvin Maddox of Essex.

Officer Goodman, a bicycle patrolman at Essex, has denied the charges. He has received numerous awards and honors in his nine years on the force.

That's why the county settled Mr. Wells' suit in 1993, said former assistant county attorney James G. Beach III. "I hated giving any money . . . [but the officers] involved I thought were pretty upstanding guys. Why drag them through the mud?"

According to the incident report, Mr. Wells' mother called police to the 2000 block of Helmsby Road, saying her son was hitting her, had been drinking and told her he was going to kill her. She wanted officers to make him leave.

Mr. Wells was bleeding from the mouth when he was brought to the Wilkins precinct, Mr. Beach said. "Every cop who went by, he spit at. They were terrified of AIDS," he said, adding that Mr. Wells, who is white, was hurling racial slurs at black officers.

Mr. Wells "took a swing at Officer Goodman," Mr. Beach said, "and Goodman nailed him one time -- and I mean nailed him."

He added that James Andrews, a narcotics investigator, tried to calm Mr. Wells but "gave him the back of his hand across the side of his face" when he was spat upon.

"The only reason we settled was, I was concerned about the adverse publicity," Mr. Beach said. "At the time, Goodman had started a neighborhood program, and a baseball youth league and Jimmy Andrews was a really good narc."

He said Mr. Wells "never went back to a cell. They kept him locked at the booking desk."

Mr. Wells was charged with assaulting four officers by spitting and was convicted in March 1990 of two counts of battery, on Officer Goodman and another officer. He served 18 months in prison.

Mr. Wells, 36, is 5-feet 5-inches tall, and said he had a criminal record, a history of drug and alcohol abuse and a seizure disorder.

"My medical bills were more than that settlement," he said. "I had a grand mal seizure before they took me to the hospital."

One of Mr. Wells' attorneys, Thomas McCarty, said he was preparing the civil case for trial when it was settled -- without an admission of guilt by police.

"Things just got out of hand," Mr. McCarty said of the incident. But, "if Goodman went through this situation and then got mixed up in another one well then, I guess unfortunately, he didn't take heed of how nasty things can get when they get out of control."

Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, county police spokesman, said an internal affairs investigation of Mr. Wells' complaint sustained allegations of unnecessary force by Officers Andrews and Goodman. He declined to say what disciplinary action was taken. Of several other officers named in Mr. Wells' lawsuit, one left the force and the others were cleared, he said.

Henry L. Belsky, Officer Goodman's attorney on the recent criminal charges, said he was aware of the Wells case. "As I understand the facts of that case, my client reacted to a severe provocation. His reaction was measured."

According to the pending charges against him, Officer Goodman was working on the desk at the Essex precinct on July 29 when Mr. Maddox refused to unclench his fist for a cadet trying to take his fingerprints. Officer Goodman allegedly pushed Mr. Maddox into the wall, causing him to fall to the floor, then kicked him while uttering racial slurs.

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