Police violated driver's rights

Jury awards $275,000 after finding man was wrongly jailed

March 24, 2000|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore jury decided last night that city police officers violated the rights of a former lab technician when they pulled him over for an alleged traffic violation in 1997 and then jailed him after he complained at a police station about his treatment.

The jury in the civil case awarded 29-year-old Bryan F. Reddick of Northwest Baltimore $275,000 in punitive and compensatory damages in a case that raised issues about police misconduct, particularly in regard to racial profiling.

Reddick's lawyers said they wanted the verdict to send a message that officers can't mistreat citizens.

Said Reddick, who now works for Amtrak: "I hope things like this won't happen any more. I don't want it to happen to anybody else."

The jury of six women, who deliberated for two hours, found all but one of the eight officers liable. The jury singled out Officer Robert Quick as the only one who acted with "malice" and ordered that he pay $25,000 in punitive damages.

The city will pay the $250,000 in compensatory damages for the police because they were acting in a law-enforcement capacity. Quick, however, may have to pay the punitive sum himself.

Myron T. Brown, who represented all eight officers, said he is considering an appeal.

Reddick's lawyer, Michael D. Fraidin, argued that police tar-geted Reddick for the traffic stop on Aug. 21, 1997, because he is black. Police released Reddick soon after he was jailed when then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a family friend, intervened.

"Racial profiling is a scary thing," Fraidin told jurors in closing arguments.

He added that officers should not act with impunity.

"I want you to put an end to this If you want to stop [the officers], you have that power," he said.

It was difficult to tell if race issues were a critical part of the jurors' decision. The jurors, two whites and four African-Americans, declined to comment.

The case involved two incidents on that night in August.

Four officers pulled over Reddick, who was traveling with a friend about 7 p.m, as they turned left onto Belvedere Avenue in Northwest Baltimore. The officers said that Reddick had not used his left turn signal.

Reddick testified that as he gave Officer Erica Cooper his license and registration, Officer Sean Ruane jumped in the back seat of the 1984 Jeep Cherokee and asked, "What's up, fellas? You want to tell me anything?"

Officer Quick ordered Reddick to get out of the car, but Reddick refused, saying that he was uncomfortable with Ruane, who was in plain clothes, in the back seat. Quick then yanked Reddick out by his shirt collar and pushed him against the car. Cooper pulled Reddick's arm behind his back, Reddick testified.

The jury found Quick and Ruane liable for assault and inflicting emotional distress. Quick was found liable for battery. Both officers, along with Cooper, were found liable for violating Reddick's rights. The fourth officer, Victor Rivera, was cleared.

Reddick immediately went to the Northwestern District police station to file a complaint against the officers. Later that night he returned with his mother, Edna. In the station were Sgts. Stephen Davis and Carolyn Fowler as well as Officers Anthony Porter and Philip Parker.

Reddick testified that the officers handcuffed him and arrested him on a warrant for a man named Eric Brown, as his mother stood next to him pleading with officers to stop.

The officers never disputed that Reddick was wrongfully jailed but said it was an honest mistake. They argued that confusion over the warrant led to Reddick being jailed for about 20 minutes.

Exactly what happened in the police station remains unclear, in part because the officers gave conflicting testimony and appeared to evade questions. All said that none of the officers knew Reddick's name -- or bothered to ask -- before they arrested him.

Fraidin said Reddick's mother told police her son's name and Reddick had shown Officer Davis his driver's license.

The jury found Davis, Fowler, Parker and Porter liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, violating Reddick's rights and inflicting emotional distress.

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