Man's family files lawsuit over his killing by police

Papers filed yesterday claim Dexter Hill was shot in the back


News from around the Baltimore region

April 16, 2005|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The family of a Baltimore man who was fatally shot last year by a city police sergeant filed a lawsuit yesterday seeking $30 million for each of eight counts of alleged wrongdoing.

Dexter Hill's longtime girlfriend and his mother said at a news conference that they wanted to prevent other families from losing someone to what their attorneys called out-of-control officers.

"There has been a total breakdown in terms of training," said lawyer A. Dwight Pettit, who has filed - and prevailed in - many police lawsuits. The Washington branch of the late Johnnie Cochran Jr.'s firm is co-counsel in the lawsuit, which alleges not only a wrongful death but also a cover-up by the Police Department.

The lawyers and family said that Hill was shot in the back; police officials said he was shot in the side.

Among those named in the lawsuit are Sgt. Mark Walrath, who fired the fatal shot; other detectives at the shooting scene; the Police Department; and the city and state.

Police spokesman Matt Jablow disputed the allegations in the lawsuit and said a 30 percent drop in arrests, as well as decreasing numbers of complaints against police, shows the department is not rife with rogue officers.

In July, a Baltimore grand jury declined to indict Walrath, who joined the force in 1992. There also was an internal investigation, and Walrath remains active on the force, Jablow said.

"I think the fact that he was cleared of any wrongdoing makes a much more emphatic statement than I could," Jablow said. "We fully expect the department to be exonerated."

Police say Walrath and other organized crime detectives spotted Hill, 37, involved in what they described as a drug deal on North Bethel Street in East Baltimore on March 17 of last year.

As detectives began to frisk Hill, he fled, and when Walrath confronted him in the yard of a vacant house, Hill picked up a long wooden board and refused to drop it, police said.

Walrath fired a single shot from his .40-caliber weapon when Hill began to swing the board, police said. Hill was struck in the side, Jablow said.

But the family says Hill was an innocent, unarmed man when Walrath chased him through the alleys and shot him in the back, under a shoulder blade. Their lawsuit states that Hill was wrongfully stopped and ran because he was fearful of police. The lawyers said Hill could not have used the wooden board - described as 14 feet long - as a weapon.

Because they knew the shooting was "illegal and egregious," the lawsuit claims, the detectives ordered witnesses to leave the scene, moved Hill's body and misrepresented what happened.

Shelby Wheeler, the mother of Hill's four children, said he did not have a drug problem and was a good provider who worked construction jobs.

"We were a team," she said. "That was my partner."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.