Police killing of naked man leads to $10 million lawsuit

Family says officer acted with 'malice' in 2005 incident

June 29, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

The family of a naked, unarmed man killed by a rookie Anne Arundel police officer in 2005 has sued the county for $10 million.

Deborah Bell, the grandmother of Donald E. Coates Jr, the 20-year-old Glen Burnie man who was shot to death, alleges that Officer Timothy Pleasant was "unreasonable" and acted with "malice" on the night of May 24, 2005, in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed last month in Circuit Court.

"No reasonable police officer under the same or similar circumstances would have shot Donald Coates Jr. dead from behind as he was running away," the lawsuit states.

County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson and Bell's attorney, James L. Rhodes, could not be reached for comment.

The death of Coates, who was apparently on drugs and delusional when he was shot, raised questions regarding departmental procedures regarding force.

"The bottom line is Officer Pleasant did exactly what he was trained to do under the circumstances given," said Officer O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county police union. "It's unfortunate that someone lost their life that night, but I don't think the officer was left with any other option than to use deadly force."

Pleasant, who was 22 and had nine months' experience on the force at the time of the shooting, said Coates "charged" at him from behind an electrical utility box in Glen Burnie.

In the minutes leading up to his death, Coates called 911 from the home he shared with girlfriend, infant son and at least three other people and pleaded for police protection.

"Please hurry up, man, somebody's trying to kill me, man," Coates told the Anne Arundel County dispatcher in a high-pitched tone. "Please hurry up. ... A lot of people are after me."

Toward the end of the six-minute call, Coates, who had barricaded himself in a bathroom after ordering people out of the house at gunpoint, reported that he had a gun. Several shots can be heard.

A woman who fled from the home and called 911 said that Coates had been using drugs.

After Coates jumped from a window and fled, Pleasant saw a naked man hiding behind a utility box at 6:47 p.m. The officer drew his gun and told the man to come out, and said Coates charged at him. Pleasant fired four shots.

The lawsuit, which was also filed on behalf of Coates' two surviving children, stated the family has suffered "severe mental anguish, emotional pain and suffering" and seeks compensation for unreasonable seizure and excessive force, gross negligence and funeral expenses.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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