Charles County arson victims plan to file civil suit

Lawyer representing at least 12 black families says their civil rights were violated


A lawyer representing at least a dozen black families who owned homes in a Charles County community ravaged by an arson fire last year said yesterday that his clients plan to sue the suspects because he says their civil rights were violated.

Homes in the Hunters Brooke subdivision in Indian Head were set afire early Dec. 6. The residential arson in Southern Maryland was one of the largest in state history, damaging or destroying more than two dozen unoccupied homes.

No one motive can explain why arsonists set fire to Hunters Brooke and caused damages worth about $10 million, according to law enforcement authorities. While the arrival of new minority residents in Charles County fueled racist anger in some suspects, others seemed obsessed with igniting a spectacular fire to show the power of a makeshift gang and to attract members, witnesses and prosecutors have said in criminal court proceedings and documents.

On Wednesday, the Washington Lawyers' Committee and the law firm Akin Gump plan to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in Greenbelt against the men accused of setting the fires, according to a statement.

Most of the criminal defense lawyers for the five white men charged in the case could not be reached yesterday. Joshua Treem, who represents defendant Roy "Brian" McCann, said he was not aware of the anticipated lawsuit against his client.

A damage amount will not be specified in court papers, according to one of the civil attorneys working on the case.

"We're fairly confident that the criminal cases have already showed that race was a factor," said Perry Rosen, a partner at Akin Gump. He added that lawyers will be able to gather additional material under discovery in an attempt to show that the fires were deliberately set to intimidate the residents of the predominantly black subdivision.

It was unclear whether all five of those arrested in the arson would be named as defendants.

In September, one defendant, Patrick Walsh, was convicted by a federal jury in Baltimore on charges of arson and criminal conspiracy. Co-defendants Aaron Speed and Jeremy Parady have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. A joint trial for McCann and Michael M. Everhart is scheduled for next year.

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