Quarles' kin sue officer and city Wrongful death alleged in shooting caught on videotape

September 25, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Lawyers for the family of James Quarles -- the knife-wielding man shot to death by a Baltimore policeman outside Lexington Market last month -- filed a $225 million wrongful death suit yesterday against the officer and the city on behalf of Quarles' 5-year-old daughter.

The suit in Baltimore Circuit Court alleges that Officer Charles M. Smothers II "unnecessarily and maliciously" shot Quarles and should not have been on street duty at the time because of a pending investigation by the department in a 1995 battery case.

Family members insist that they filed the suit only because Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy refused to send the case to the grand jury.

"I'm still in shock that justice did not work for us as far as the grand jury," Mischele Quarles said in a news conference announcing the lawsuit. "Money will never bring my brother back."

Quarles, 22, was fatally shot Aug. 9 after refusing repeated demands by police to drop his knife. His death -- caught on videotape and shown repeatedly on television news programs -- sparked protests over the use of deadly force.

Jessamy announced Sept. 8 that she would not take the case against Smothers to the grand jury because she was convinced that he had followed proper procedure.

Defending her position, Jessamy said she would not bow to public pressure to indict someone "when I can find no evidence of a crime." Her conclusion was based on a review of police procedures, the videotape of the incident and interviews with 25 witnesses.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said at the time that he would not question Jessamy's decision.

Henry L. Belsky, the police union lawyer who has represented Smothers, termed the $225 million suit "nothing more than a publicity stunt."

"I don't think General Motors has gotten hit with $100 million," Belsky said. "I feel that the state's attorney made the right decision. I don't think the police officer did anything wrong."

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a city police spokesman, said the department does not comment on pending litigation.

An attempt to reach Smothers for comment was unsuccessful.

Even though Smothers was vindicated by Jessamy, the civil suit could be troublesome for him.

In a criminal case, prosecutors must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the accused committed a crime, but a wrongful death civil suit allows jurors to consider which side they believe more.

"You have a much lower standard and a much wider scope of discovery," said A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer for the Quarles family. "We're allowed to focus on the administrative procedures, personnel policies and what the police did or did not do."

Officer Shean D. Camper, for example, was acquitted in a 1994 criminal trial, but last year, a jury in a civil trial found that he was unjustified in fatally shooting a suspect and ordered him to pay $111,000 to the slain man's family.

Pettit said that he has affidavits from several witnesses to show that Quarles was following police orders and that he believes it evident on the videotape that Quarles was wrongfully slain.

"I think the tape would have to be the most damaging piece of evidence," Pettit said.

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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