Man gets $327,000 for injuries by police He was accosted by mistake during drug investigation

June 04, 1998|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

A city Circuit Court jury has awarded $327,000 to a laborer whose leg was broken when he was mistakenly pulled to the ground by police looking for a drug dealer in South Baltimore in 1996.

But James Rhue Jr., 32, said the money awarded Monday, which the city is expected to pay, will not be enough to pay his medical bills and make up for wages lost because he can no longer do construction work.

Rhue said he has had four operations on his right leg since he was accosted Feb. 13, 1996, by a city police officer during an undercover drug operation.

He said he must use a cane to walk, wears a leg brace when the pain is excessive and must undergo surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center to have his kneecap replaced. "What I'm worried about is the operation I have coming up. Who is going to take care of that bill?" Rhue said.

Rhue, father of six children, filed suit last year alleging civil rights violations by Officers William Harris and Curtis Calhoun.

Rhue was injured after Harris, who was on a neighborhood rooftop observing drug transactions, broadcast a description of a suspect he had seen making a series of drug sales at Hamburg and Leadenhall streets, said Mark Herman, Rhue's lawyer.

Calhoun, who heard the broadcast in his unmarked car, approached Rhue as he walked up the steps to his mother's rowhouse in the 100 block of W. Hamburg St., Herman said.

"He grabs Mr. Rhue by the collar of his jacket, pulls him down the steps leading up to the door, and Mr. Rhue falls and fractures his leg," Herman said.

William Kurtz, Calhoun's lawyer, said that testimony during the two-week trial before Judge Carol E. Smith showed that Rhue had been drinking heavily before the incident, and that he might have slipped and fallen onto Calhoun.

"Our version was that the man was startled by being approached, that he turns suddenly and that he loses his balance and that both men fell down," Kurtz said.

Kurtz said Rhue acknowledged consuming a dozen 12-ounce beers and a pint of rum in the hours before the incident.

Rhue's mother, Daisy, and a friend, Louis Jones, also said Rhue was wearing a jacket that "looked similar" to the one Harris described in broadcasting the suspect's description, Kurtz said.

Rhue was not arrested, and he was released shortly after he was taken to a hospital, Herman said. Kurtz said the city is expected to pay the damages, which were awarded by a jury split 5-1 after both sides agreed to accept a majority verdict.

The case against Harris was dismissed before trial, Kurtz and Herman said. Calhoun died in December of a brain tumor.

Rhue left Southern High School in the 10th grade to help support his five sisters, has no marketable job skills and probably will be working at minimum-wage jobs for the rest of his life, Herman said.

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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