3 guards say shoppers lied about strip-search Trio's lawsuit alleges 'scheme' to get settlement

February 07, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

Three security guards who were accused of racism and illegally strip-searching two Towson Town Center shoppers in 1995 have sued the shoppers and their lawyer for defamation, claiming they lied at a news conference and on a radio show.

The suit, filed Jan 22 in Baltimore County Circuit Court, says the shoppers were not strip-searched when they were suspected of shoplifting clothing at a Victoria's Secret store and that they set up the guards so that they could sue them.

In March, the shoppers filed a $218 million lawsuit against the guards, the mall and Victoria's Secret, alleging illegal strip-searches. The guards are white, and the shoppers are black.

A lawyer for Towson Town Center, Jerald J. Oppel, said that suit was dropped and that the mall did not pay any money in settlement.

The later suit, which seeks more than $40 million in damages, was filed by guards Robert Knudsen and Louis Gianotti -- who are also Baltimore County police officers -- and guard Carla N. Hooker.

It says the guards asked to pat down the shoppers with their clothes on, but that the shoppers ripped off their clothes as the guards objected. No stolen items were found, and the shoppers, Nathaniel E. Masterson and Ruth K. Cobb of Prince George's County, were not charged.

The defamation suit also alleges that the lawsuit filed by Cobb and Masterson was a "planned scheme to obtain a financial settlement" from the guards.

"This was a setup," said Michael Marshall, the guards' attorney. "These two people went in intending to get caught shoplifting" so that they could sue.

"It has become all too common to take potshots at police officers, and they have become easy targets."

The suit says that when the guards asked Masterson whether he would object to being patted down, "he removed his clothing, including his underpants" while the guards objected.

Cobb removed her clothes in a separate room, although Hooker had told her that was not necessary, the suit says.

The guards' suit contends that Cobb and Masterson lied at a news conference and on a Washington radio show when they called the guards racists and said they were surrounded by officers and a police dog as they were questioned.

The suit says Cobb also lied when she said on the radio show that she was told to take her clothes off and bend over, and that she was strip-searched by a male officer while a female guard lifted her breasts.

Last spring, when Cobb and Masterson filed their suit, Masterson said, "I found myself in a closet, a little office, with two white police officers standing at the door. The best thing I felt for me to do was to willfully submit."

At the time, their lawyer, Ted J. Williams, said, "It is my belief that if they were not people of color they would not have been treated the way they were treated."

The guards' defamation suit also names Williams as a defendant, alleging that he made false statements at the news conference.

Williams did not return calls this week.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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