Jury awards man $1 million in police-brutality case

March 16, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court jury has awarded a man $1 million in damages after finding that a city police officer assaulted him and violated his civil rights during an early-morning incident in Fells Point five years ago.

Jurors deliberated for about six hours into Wednesday night before finding Officer Michael S. McSpadden liable for the assault on Robert O'Neil of Baltimore County, whose wrist was broken. Jurors also found that McSpadden, who joined the department in 1993, violated O'Neil's civil rights.

"The message to the Police Department is that the citizens of Baltimore will not tolerate abusive, brutal and discourteous police," Bryan A. Levitt, one of O'Neil's lawyers, said yesterday.

McSpadden, who is still on the force, declined to comment last night. Efforts to reach Myron T. Brown, the lawyer paid by the department to represent him, were unsuccessful yesterday.

Domenic Iamele, O'Neil's other lawyer, said O'Neil and two friends left a bar in the 700 block of S. Broadway about 2 a.m. June 1, 1996. They went to a nearby pizzeria, and when O'Neil left to use a pay telephone at Broadway Market, four officers ordered him to walk south, Iamele said.

O'Neil, 36, said he wanted to rejoin his friends, but "Officer McSpadden grabbed his right arm and put him in a `come-along' hold," Iamele said. "Mr. O'Neil was bent over at the waist and forced to walk to the intersection of Lancaster [Street] and Broadway."

There, Iamele said, McSpadden unsuccessfully "enticed Mr. O'Neil to hit him." McSpadden then lifted O'Neil's arm and twisted it while applying pressure, breaking his wrist, the lawyer said.

O'Neil, a manager at a company that uses heavy equipment, said the injury "has made my job more difficult."

Sean Malone, chief legal counsel for the Police Department, said the Internal Affairs division investigated the case and determined the complaint to be "unfounded" because O'Neil could not identify the officer who he said injured him.

"I reviewed this Internal Affairs investigation, and a thorough investigation was done," Malone said. He said the city has not decided whether to appeal.

Last week, a mistrial was declared in a case in which Officer Clyde Rawlins Jr. was accused of giving a black eye to Larry Nathaniel, 19, in July on Argyle Avenue. Prosecutors plan to retry the case.

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