Baltimore settles lawsuit over '97 police shooting

Videotape recorded standoff with man near Lexington Market

January 27, 1999|By Caitlin Francke and Peter Hermann | Caitlin Francke and Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Baltimore officials settled a $200 million lawsuit yesterday that was filed over a police shooting -- caught on videotape outside Lexington Market -- that left a man dead and sparked community protests.

The settlement in the case against former police Officer Charles M. Smothers II and the Baltimore Police Department was reached as a jury was being selected to hear the case in the city's Circuit Court. As part of the deal, the settlement amount was kept confidential and sealed in court records.

A. Dwight Pettit, attorney for the family of James Quarles III, who was killed in August 1997 outside Lexington Market in a standoff with police, said the settlement "will set up a nice future for his little girl."

"We're very pleased and we perceive it as vindicating Mr. Quarles," said Pettit, who called Smothers' shooting of Quarles, 22, unjustified and "unacceptable police behavior. This was just an outrageous act."

As part of the settlement, Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier and Col. Ronald L. Daniel were cleared of any liability. But the settlement money will come from a $3 million city fund used to pay judgments against city employees, Pettit said.

City attorneys, who would not discuss details of the settlement, said they, too, were pleased with the resolution of the case.

Said Gary May, the Police Department's chief legal counsel: "I'm not saying what this was settled for. I'm forbidden from talking about the terms."

Added Bernard Ilkhanoff, the lawyer in May's office who handled the case: "We're satisfied with the outcome."

Quarles' shooting sparked national attention and raised questions about police use of lethal force.

Many of the questions were generated by a videotape of the shooting made by a bystander. The three-minute tape showed the knife-wielding Quarles being surrounded by police with their guns drawn.

As the officers repeatedly shouted at him to drop the knife, a crowd gathered and one woman's voice can be heard twice yelling, "Don't shoot that boy."

Twelve seconds later, Smothers fired a single shot into Quarles' right shoulder. That bullet traveled through his chest and pierced his lungs.

Yesterday, Smothers' attorney, Michael Marshall, reiterated Smothers' contention that the shooting was justified. In 1997, Smothers told The Sun that Quarles appeared ready to drop the knife, but then suddenly gripped the handle tightly, gritted his teeth and moved his left foot forward -- a move Smothers said he interpreted as a hostile gesture.

That move could not be seen on the videotape because Quarles' foot and hand were obscured.

Smothers "has always felt that the shooting was justified," Marshall said.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy agreed with Smothers and decided against pressing charges or taking the case to the grand jury. She said at the time that several witnesses corroborated Smothers' account.

Questions remained in the community, however, prompting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to call for a civilian review board to monitor allegations of police brutality.

Further questions arose when it was revealed that Smothers had been convicted of battery for a domestic violence incident during which he fired his gun at his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend in April 1995.

Despite being sentenced to probation and a pending administrative hearing, Smothers was given back his gun and badge and returned to patrol duty.

The discovery spurred the department to suspend 35 officers who were patrolling city streets while awaiting disciplinary hearings on charges of misconduct, including beating their wives and girlfriends and using excessive force.

In the lawsuit against Frazier and Daniels, Quarles' family alleged that police commanders should not have allowed Smothers back on the job. That case was dropped as part of the settlement agreement.

Smothers was fired from the department in December 1997 because of the domestic violence conviction.

The money will go toward the rearing of Quarles' 6-year-old daughter, Shanequa, and to pay his medical and funeral expenses, Pettit said.

"Hopefully it will make the Police Department more sensitive to the use of deadly force," he said.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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