Woman fails in appeal for rape case award

Ex-officer, not Arundel, is liable, judges rule

September 30, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County taxpayers will not have to pay a $1 million judgment on behalf of a former police officer accused of raping a Laurel woman while on duty a decade ago, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled yesterday.

The ruling upholds the decision of Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner, and leaves the woman to collect the judgment from Michael Dennis Ziegler, the former officer.

"This is a tragic situation, but as a matter of law, the county is not responsible," said Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer. "If an officer goes off on a personal action, the county is not responsible, nor should the taxpayers be responsible."

The lawsuit stemmed from an incident on Nov. 15, 1990, when Ziegler pulled the woman over about 2 a.m. under suspicion of drunken driving.

He did not issue a citation and offered the woman a ride home. Instead, he drove her to a church parking lot in Crofton and assaulted her, according to court documents.

Ziegler testified during a trial that the incident was consensual. But he resigned from the police department in March 1991 as part of a plea agreement in which he was convicted of police misconduct. He served no jail time.

In 1993, the woman filed a civil suit in Circuit Court against Ziegler, Anne Arundel County and its police department, seeking damages for the violation of her federal rights. The case was sent to U.S. District Court, where a federal jury returned a verdict against Ziegler, and awarded the woman $1.05 million in damages.

Ziegler went to the county self-insurance fund committee, submitting a claim for the judgment amount, but the county rejected it. An appeal of the committee's decision was also rejected by the county Board of Appeals in 1996.

The following year, the woman sued the county in Circuit Court, continuing Ziegler's claim to insurance benefits in order to collect the damages owed her, but Lerner decided in favor of the county.

Ziegler's actions were "not within the scope of his employment," Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. wrote in the 26-page opinion. "For that reason, Ziegler's conduct was not covered by the liability insurance provided by the County."

The woman's attorney was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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