Civil suit against ex-officer in fatal shooting begins

January 07, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The family of a man killed by a former city police officer in a jealous rage was in city Circuit Court yesterday for the first day of a $35 million wrongful death lawsuit.

Former Officer Rodney Price, 37, pleaded guilty in 2002 to murdering Tristin D. Little Sr. with 21 bullets from his service weapon outside Little's Northeast Baltimore home. He is serving a life sentence, with all but 50 years suspended.

At the time of the killing, Price believed Little, 28, was having an affair with his wife, Charice Price, according to court documents.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Little's mother, Emma Brown, and his two children, Tristin D. Little Jr., 11, and Britney J. Ross, 13.

According to the lawsuit, Price, a 13-year member of the force, "maliciously" and "recklessly" shot Little 21 times with his service weapon March 15, 2001, stopping at one point to reload. At the time, Price was wearing his police-issued pants, boots and belt.

The murder happened as Price was on his way to begin his midnight shift at the Central District.

According to court records, Price "sneaked up" as Little walked outside his home with Price's wife about 10 p.m.

Price told Little, "Didn't I tell you not to mess with my wife?" then opened fire. He briefly stopped in the middle of his spree, held the gun to his wife, then resumed shooting Little, records show.

Judge Clifton J. Gordy ruled Monday that Price assumed his police duties seconds before the killing when he pulled out his service revolver.

Price's lawyer, Troy Priest, said Price went for his gun because he felt threatened by Little, who he thought might have been reaching for a weapon.

"He feared for his life, and he shot him," Priest said.

A. Dwight Petit, one of the lawyers representing Little's family, told the jury that their task is deciding how much Little's life is worth.

"We're talking about a life gone forever," Petit said. "Money will never bring back Tristin Little. The only way to compensate his family is monetary damages."

According to court documents, Price told his wife in December 2000 to break off her relationship with Little, and warned Little the next month to stop seeing his wife.

Little, a Baltimore native who was a tractor-trailer driver, had called police internal investigators in January to complain that an officer was harassing him, but he refused to identify the officer. Charice Price also called with the same complaint.

Price previously had several assault complaints against him, but was not found guilty of any of them.

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