$105 million in damages awarded in death

Baltimore officer shot man seen with his wife

January 10, 2004|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore jury awarded $105 million in damages yesterday to the family of a man who was shot to death in 2001 by a former city police officer who believed the man was having an affair with his wife.

The judgment was against Rodney Price, 37, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to killing Tristin D. Little Sr. with 21 bullets from his service weapon. Jurors deliberated about two hours before rejecting Price's assertions that he fired his gun because he thought Little might be carrying a weapon.

Price is serving a life sentence, with all but 50 years suspended.

A. Dwight Pettit, the Baltimore lawyer who represented Little's family, said last night that he would ask the city to pay the judgment because Price has testified that he was acting as a trained officer and because a judge has ruled that Price assumed his police duties in the moments before the killing.

Pettit said the city has an agreement with the Fraternal Order of Police to pay any damages against police officers who are sued in the scope of their employment.

City officials, however, are expected to fight the effort to collect damages in Price's case.

Pettit will also face a challenge on another legal front: Maryland law would limit the damage amount in the Little case to less than $2.5 million. But Pettit said the facts of the case could present a strong challenge to the state's limit on civil damages.

"Our argument has always been that you can't cap a constitutional right," Pettit said.

Troy Priest, a lawyer who represented Price in the lawsuit, is expected to ask Baltimore Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy to reduce the award. Priest could not be reached for comment last night.

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

Pettit said the family continues to mourn Little's death.

"Money doesn't bring him back," Pettit said.

"They were pleased to have their day in court, but I didn't see any jubilation" about the verdict.

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

Price, then a 13-year veteran of the city Police Department, shot Little 21 times with his service weapon March 15, 2001, stopping to reload the weapon. At the time, Price was wearing his police-issued pants, boots and belt.

The killing occurred as Price was on his way to begin his midnight shift at the department's Central District.

According to court records, Price approached as Little walked outside his Northeast Baltimore home with Charice Price about 10 p.m.

Price allegedly told Little, "Didn't I tell you not to mess with my wife?" and then opened fire.

He briefly stopped in the middle of the attack, held the gun to his wife, then resumed shooting Little, court records show.

Price's attorney argued in court this week that Price went for his gun because he felt threatened by Little.

Little, a Baltimore native who was a tractor-trailer driver, had called police internal investigators two months before his death to complain that an officer was harassing him, but he would not identify the officer. Charice Price called with the same complaint.

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

Sun staff writer Allison Klein contributed to this report.

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