Bystander suit against police settled for $125,000 Victim was shot in head while watching '87 chase

April 05, 1996|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

A suit brought on behalf of a teen-age bystander shot in the head during a police chase in Edgewood has been settled for $125,000, ending an eight-year legal battle that once reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The settlement, which averted a three-week trial in Harford County Circuit Court, puts to rest the legal wrangling stemming from the July 28, 1987, shooting of David W. Rucker, then 16.

Mr. Rucker, who now is 25 and lives in Texas, suffered brain damage when he was shot, apparently by a Harford County sheriff's deputy.

"Obviously, that's an utterly inadequate amount, in light of the kid's injuries," said Daniel M. Clements, lawyer for Mr. Rucker and his father, James H. Rucker. Mr. Clements said the settlement, reached Wednesday, was the best that could be obtained after U.S. courts ruled the teen's constitutional rights were not violated and dismissed a $10 million federal lawsuit.

That ruling, upheld by the Supreme Court in 1992, meant the case had to be tried in state courts, where the law limited county and local governments' potential damages to $250,000, Mr. Clements said.

Lawyers representing the Maryland State Police and the Harford County sheriff's office said the settlement figure was fair, given that the teen-ager might have contributed to his injuries by ignoring orders to leave the area of the chase. Those lawyers said they settled the case to avoid the expense of going to trial. The defendants did not admit fault.

The suit stemmed from events surrounding a chase that began on southbound Interstate 95 in Harford County, where state police pursued a Ford Bronco that had been reported stolen from a Cecil County man. The driver of the Bronco, Jerry Mace, at one point crossed the interstate's median strip, drove the wrong way in the northbound lanes and left the highway on an entrance ramp.

Later, state police and sheriff's deputies encountered the driver in a cornfield, and fired about 20 shots at him. Mr. Rucker, who had stopped to watch, was shot above the left eye. FBI tests showed bullet fragments from near the scene came from the gun of Gary Vernon, an off-duty sheriff's deputy, Mr. Clements said. The lawyer added that a ballistics expert matched those fragments to fragments recovered from Mr. Rucker's head.

Although police searched the area to see whether the suspect had discarded a gun, none was found.

Mr. Rucker, the son of an Army sergeant who then was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, lost part of his brain in the incident. He cannot speak clearly and can hold only menial, part-time jobs, his lawyer said.

Jefferson L. Blomquist, an assistant Harford County attorney, said the incident led the Sheriff's Department to modify its policies on pursuits, use of force and internal investigations. Still, he said police acted properly in trying to contain the suspect in the cornfield. All of the deputies involved remain on active duty with the department, he said.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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