Officer sues police, hospital Forcible removal from home violates rights, suit says

March 14, 1996|By TaNoah V. Sterling | TaNoah V. Sterling,SUN STAFF

A county police officer has sued the department, a senior officer and North Arundel Hospital for $5 million, claiming his civil rights were violated when he was taken from his Carroll County home in handcuffs last year to undergo a psychiatric evaluation for stress.

Officer Edward Francis Smith filed the lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, charging he was held against his will in the psychiatric ward of North Arundel Hospital for 66 hours because his estranged wife and his girlfriend told his superior officer he was suicidal.

The lawsuit names Deputy Chief Gary Barr, four doctors and a social worker at the Glen Burnie hospital.

Deputy Chief Barr and Cpl. Ronald Hines, a police spokesman, said yesterday they could not comment on the suit because they have not been served with it. Kevin Murnane, spokesman for the hospital, said hospital officials would not comment.

Court documents say Anne Arundel SWAT team members emerged from hiding Nov. 17 to take Mr. Smith into custody as he was leaving his house in Manchester to pick up his son.

He was taken in handcuffs to the psychiatric ward at North Arundel, where he was admitted, even though he had been evaluated for stress at the hospital the day before and released by a doctor, documents say.

Doctors did not examine Mr. Smith while he was in the hospital, the lawsuit alleges.

"It really is very upsetting to me," Mr. Smith, a three-year veteran, said in an interview. "They can't give me back what it is that I feel they've taken from me."

Mr. Smith is back on duty as a patrol officer in the Northern District.

The suit says Mr. Smith's estranged wife called his supervisor, Sgt. Tony Hodges, on Nov. 15 to say the officer was suicidal. The sergeant thought Mr. Smith was fine and allowed him to stay on duty, the suit says. The next day, Mr. Smith's girlfriend, who had talked with his estranged wife, also called Sergeant Hodges.

Mr. Smith was suspended and ordered to turn in his badge and gun and speak to the "psychologist on duty at North Arundel Hospital," the documents say.

Mr. Smith spoke with Dr. Lawrence Linder, an emergency room physician authorized to perform psychological evaluations. Dr. Linder determined Mr. Smith was not a danger to himself or others and released him, court records show.

On Nov. 17, Mr. Smith went to a suspension hearing where Deputy Chief Barr told Mr. Smith that he did not believe Dr. Linder's diagnosis and placed him on administrative duties, the documents say. The deputy chief ordered the officer to get counseling with the Employee Assistance Program. Lt. Dennis Wheeler, another supervisor, told Mr. Smith he would page him if there was an opening that day, according to the court filing.

Mr. Smith said he never received a page, but got a telephone call from someone at the Employee Assistance Program saying he had missed an appointment.

Soon after, his father called and said Westminster police had gone to the father's house looking for Mr. Smith, the court documents say. Mr. Smith called Deputy Chief Barr to let him know he was at home, then discovered that Westminster police also had been to his wife's house looking for him.

Mr. Smith called Deputy Chief Barr twice to tell him he was at home, documents say. After the second call, the deputy chief said that he would call off the search, the documents say. Soon after, the SWAT team went to Mr. Smith's home, the papers say, and forcibly removed him. "They were hiding in a neighbor's house," Mr. Smith said. "They came up behind me, patted me down and put me in handcuffs. When [SWAT team leader Sgt. David M.] Evans approached me, I told him I just got off the phone with Deputy Chief Barr and he assured me that everything was fine, and [he] told me that he also had just spoken to the deputy chief and I was to be taken into custody.

"I don't know why the SWAT team was involved, and I certainly don't know why they were involved in Carroll County."

At the hospital, documents say, doctors asked Mr. Smith how he was feeling and why he was there.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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