Former gun dealer sues ex-prosecutor, now a judge, charging civil rights violation Case, which was dropped, involved unlocked arms

November 25, 1995|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

An article and headline in Saturday's editions of The Sun incorrectly described Ryle Edward Springman, a gun dealer who has filed lawsuits over a criminal charge improperly brought against him, as no longer being in business. In fact, Mr. Springman, whose last name was misspelled based on information from his lawyer and court documents, has relocated his Eastwood Guns and Ammo business from Baltimore County to Aberdeen, Harford County.

The Sun regrets the error.

A former Baltimore County gun dealer has filed a federal civil rights action against the Baltimore County prosecutor -- now a judge -- who advised a police officer to charge him with reckless endangerment after the officer reported finding some of the former dealer's weapons unlocked about three years ago.

Ryle Edward Springmen, 42, who has moved to Aberdeen, said his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the state when he was ordered, under threat of arrest, to report to the District Court in Dundalk Feb., 8, 1993, to answer the charge.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Although the case against him was dropped, Mr. Springmen is seeking unspecified monetary damages in his suit against Baltimore County District Judge Alexandra Williams, formerly chief of the state's attorney's District Court division. Judge Williams said she would not comment on the lawsuit, filed Nov. 16 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The case against Mr. Springmen arose when police answered a 4 a.m. alarm Nov. 19, 1992, at his Eastwood Guns and Ammo, then in the 7400 block of Eastern Blvd. There was no burglar, but Officer George Rakowski reported that he had seen about 50 handguns in an unlocked case and a line of unsecured, long-barreled guns, including assault rifles, against the wall with ammunition nearby.

"You could reach your hand in and remove the handguns," the officer wrote. "All the weapons and ammo in the business could easily be removed and carried out into the woods behind the business."

Mr. Springmen sued the officer in Baltimore County Circuit Court in 1993. That case remains pending, said his attorney, Howard J. Fezell of Frederick, who has represented clients in several gun cases.

In pretrial motions in the Baltimore County suit, Mr. Fezell said, Judge Williams filed an affidavit saying she had reviewed the case with Officer Rakowski and advised him that "there was probable cause to allege that the condition of Mr. Springmen's gun shop violated the reckless endangerment statute."

State officials acting in their official capacities usually are immune from lawsuits, but Mr. Fezell said Maryland's reckless endangerment statute exempts conduct related to the sale of a product. As a veteran prosecutor, Judge Williams should have known that, he said.

Further, he said, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that prosecutors do not have complete immunity when they give legal advice to the police.

"Ms. Williams allegedly gave some advice to the officer," he said, "and presumably after this advice, the police officer initiated a criminal prosecution that was dismissed when it came to court."

Mr. Springmen "was compelled to incur legal expenses and to take time away from the operation of his business, and suffered anxiety over the effect that criminal charges could have on his ability to conduct his firearms business," Mr. Fezell said.

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