Family of shooting victim sues 3 police officers Bystander killed as trio, escapee trade gunfire

April 17, 1996|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The family of a Southwest Baltimore man, an innocent bystander who was fatally shot by police in December, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the three officers involved.

Doris James, the mother of Melvin James, 18, who was shot and killed Dec. 5 during a gunbattle between the police officers and an escaped murderer in the 1900 block of Hollins St., filed the wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. She was joined as plaintiff in the suit by Tracey Day, the mother of Chardanae Desiree James, Mr. James' daughter.

The suit against Officers Willis Richardson, Darryl DeSousa and Kevin Ruth alleges they failed to exercise reasonable caution while trying to arrest George Thomas Jr., 38, who also was shot and killed in the gunbattle after he fired on the officers. Mr. James was killed by a bullet that ricocheted off a wall and struck him in the forehead.

The suit said the officers were in plainclothes and failed to identify themselves; they fired an excessive number of shots; they fired wildly down Hollins Street in the direction of Mr. James; and they failed to shoot against a backdrop.

"We believe that the evidence will show that the officers were negligent and that one of them shot Melvin James," said David F. Albright Jr., attorney for Ms. James and Ms. Day.

After the shooting, the three officers, who are members of the Violent Crimes Task Force, were placed on routine administrative duties while the department reviewed their actions. They have since resumed their normal duties, said Sam Ringgold, a Police Department spokesman.

Some witnesses to the shooting said Thomas, who walked away from the Jessup Pre-Release Unit on Nov. 22 after serving 20 years of a 45-year second-degree murder sentence, confronted two men he thought were thugs chasing a youth. They turned out to be plainclothes police officers, but the witnesses said they never identified themselves.

According to police, after Thomas made eye contact with the officers, he went into a rowhouse in the 1900 block of Hollins St. and emerged with a handgun and opened fire. The officers returned fire, and more than 30 shots were exchanged.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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