Howard County police chief defends officers being sued

Countersuit filed against man alleging assault

October 22, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

In an unusual move, Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay launched a public defense yesterday of two officers being sued by a 22-year-old man who alleges that they assaulted him on the parking lot of Merriweather Post Pavilion during a concert last year.

In a lengthy statement about the incident in August, Livesay announced that police had filed a civil counterclaim against Peter E. Farragut and indicated that the accusations were too incendiary to ignore.

"This action of filing a counterclaim is unusual, but so is this case," Livesay said. "Officers deserve better than to have to face an angry mob while doing their job and then have to read in the newspaper, and have their friends and family read, that they initiated an unprovoked attack.

"I believe the best way to get their story out is to file a counterclaim," he said.

Farragut, the son of former County Councilman Paul R. Farragut, is suing the county and two police officers.

He says they handcuffed and showered him with pepper spray Aug. 8, 1998. Police say Farragut resisted arrest and assaulted the officers.

Normally, county officials don't file counterclaims, lawyers said, and rarely seek civil damages resulting from assaults.

Authorities almost always file criminal charges in those cases.

Where Farragut accuses police of abusing him, the counterclaim says that Farragut resisted arrest after officers observed "a drug violation occurring on the parking lot."

As officers tried to put Farragut in handcuffs, a crowd began throwing beer bottles at the officers while shouting and threatening them, the counterclaim says. During the attempted arrest, Farragut also assaulted the officers, Sgt. John McKissick and Officer Michael Proviano, the counterclaim says.

"As a result of [Farragut's] actions, the officers were put in fear for their safety, were ultimately forced to retreat to prevent further injury to themselves, were prevented from doing their jobs, and suffered temporary anguish," the counterclaim says.

The counterclaim also states that six unidentified people in the crowd assisted Farragut in resisting arrest, yelled at the officers and incited others to help Farragut.

The department and officers are seeking $15 in compensatory damages and $5,100 in punitive damages.

"As you can see from the claims asserted by the officers in this lawsuit, for these officers, this is not about money," Livesay said. "It is about what is right -- and I personally think it is important for the public to hear what really happened."

A police union official said he supports the county and Livesay's action. "From our position, it's great that he's backing the officers," said Pfc. Daniel Besseck, union vice president. "We wish it would happen more often whenever officers are brought into the spotlight in a negative manner."

Farragut filed his lawsuit Sept. 7 alleging that officers assaulted him, sprayed him with pepper spray and put him in handcuffs. The officers then uncuffed Farragut and left, his suit claims.

Farragut is represented by David Harvis, president of the Howard County Bar Association.

Harvis could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Harvis defended the suit last month. "The case is real," Harvis said then. "The police did something wrong."

Pub Date: 10/22/99

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