$800,000 damages award can't restore lost dreams Howard football star wins suit in '95 beating

September 27, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

A one-time star Howard County football player has been awarded an $800,000 judgment against former members of a rival high school team for beating him into a coma and leaving his dreams in tatters.

But Shawn A. Sherman of Ellicott City says the award -- one of the highest judgments in recent years in Howard County Circuit Court -- won't give him back what he lost.

"Instead of me being able to decide what I wanted to do with my life, it was decided for me," said Sherman, 20, who was in a coma for nine days after being severely beaten in a high school parking lot. "I'd rather be able to still play football."

He says he suffered permanent head injuries on March 10, 1995, when he was attacked by a group of teen-agers -- including a star football player who played the same positions as Sherman for a rival school.

In place of trophies and college scholarships, Sherman says, he has chronic headaches that hurt so much his eyes water. He carries a notebook to remind him of appointments because of permanent memory problems. His sense of smell is impaired.

Sherman filed suit in 1995 against four youths he said were involved in the fight. Only one showed up in court this week for the four-day-long civil trial, and that man was cleared of liability.

Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane entered a default judgment late Thursday against Bradley A. Matulevich, Dennis A. Locke and Tajuan Lamar Hall, all of Columbia.

None could be reached for comment. At Matulevich's home, a relative said Bradley Matulevich was at Bowie State University. Court records show none had attorneys representing them in the case except for the one who appeared in court.

Kane awarded Sherman $661,921 for past and future medical expenses, as well as noneconomic damages. The judge also awarded $150,000 in punitive damages, directing Matulevich to pay $100,000 and the other two defendants to pay $25,000 each.

One of Sherman's attorneys, Jonathan Scott Smith, said it will be difficult to collect money from the youths. But those judgments -- unless appealed -- will hang over their heads, he said.

"At some point they are not going to be kids living with their mother and father," he said. "They are going to settle down, and it's going to be a sobering reality" when they see the debt.

Sherman's attorneys said they will ask that any wages the men earn at future jobs be docked.

"Every time they look at their paycheck they have to remember what they did to Shawn Sherman," said his other attorney, Daniel J. Vaccaro.

"And hopefully regret it," said Sherman, who has five visible scars on his neck.

In addition to the civil suit, Matulevich, 21, and Locke, 20, faced criminal charges.

Matulevich was sentenced in November 1995 to 18 months in jail for beating, kicking and smashing a beer bottle over Sherman's head. The criminal case against Locke was placed on the inactive docket after a jury could not come to a unanimous decision on his guilt, according to court records and Sherman's attorneys.

Sherman's attorneys say the hostilities between Sherman and the defendants began in the parking lot of a Columbia Pizza Hut in February 1995. Sherman broke up a fight between Matulevich and another boy, according to the suit.

Sherman and Matulevich were All-County stars playing the same positions, defensive tackle and offensive guard, at rival schools. Sherman, who formerly lived in Elkridge, played at Howard High School and Matulevich at Oakland Mills High School. Hall and Locke also were Oakland Mills students and football players, and Hall earned All-County honors.

Two weeks after the Pizza Hut incident, the suit states, the defendants threatened Sherman. On March 10, in the parking lot of Oakland Mills High School, the defendants surrounded Sherman, head-butted him and kicked him several times in the head. They left him unconscious, lying in a pool of blood, according to the suit.

Swain Sherman, 26, remembers seeing his younger brother at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, first in a coma and then unable to move. He said he pulled his brother, his head drooping, out of a chair in an effort to teach him to walk again.

"He goes from All-County football to not being able to walk or talk," Swain Sherman said.

Now Shawn Sherman walks, lives on his own and is looking for work as a car salesman. "I had to start all over again," he said.

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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