State high court says county doesn't have to pay rape claim

Woman had won judgment against former police officer

April 09, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

The state's highest court dealt a final blow yesterday to an Anne Arundel County woman's repeated attempts to collect from the county a $1 million judgment she won in 1994 against a former police officer she accused of raping her.

Agreeing with two lower courts, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that Anne Arundel is not obligated to pay the legal damages incurred by former county police officer Michael D. Ziegler because his actions did not fall "within the scope" of his employment by the county.

"This is not a case in which the county gloats," said Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer. "There certainly is no great joy in a result that leaves the victim in the position she is in."

Ziegler, an 18-year veteran of the force, was convicted in 1991 of police misconduct arising from the early-morning encounter in November 1990 in Pasadena.

The Crofton woman, then 24, said the officer pulled her over, told her she was too drunk to drive and that he would drive her home, according to court documents. Instead, he took her to a church parking lot and raped her in the front seat of his police cruiser, the woman alleged. Ziegler testified in court that the woman initiated the sexual encounter.

Yesterday's ruling marks the end of a saga in the civil courts that began when a federal jury awarded the woman compensatory and punitive damages in a civil rights lawsuit she filed against Ziegler.

Believing that the county ought to pay for the officer's misdeeds, the woman tried to claim the jury award from the Anne Arundel County Self-Insurance Fund Committee. The committee rejected her claim and the county Board of Appeals agreed.

In 1997, the woman sued the county in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court and lost. She appealed, but the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the lower court's judgment.

The latest decision by the Court of Appeals hinged on whether Ziegler's actions were covered by the county's insurance. The court found that county employees are covered only while acting within the scope of their duties, and that the officer's "detour to the church parking lot and assault upon [the victim] was neither authorized nor permitted" by his employer.

The woman's attorney, William Gately, said he disagreed with the way the court interpreted the county's obligations. "When you realize it's the county government that's on the hook, it's not surprising," he said.

Gately said his client's only legal recourse is to try to seek payment from Ziegler. But he added he does not believe the former officer has the means to pay the judgment.

Ziegler initially was charged with rape but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of police misconduct under a plea bargain with prosecutors. He agreed to resign from the department and received five years of probation.

Ziegler was accused of rape once before. In 1979, a Glen Burnie woman alleged that the officer assaulted her in her apartment. Ziegler was suspended for 30 days without pay, then transferred to clerical duty for 10 months. Charges were not filed in that case because of lack of evidence.

Sun staff writer Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.

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