3 city police officers ordered to pay $7.4M after man's death

April 07, 2010|By Jessica Anderson | jkanderson@baltsun.com

Three Baltimore City police officers were ordered to pay $7.4 million to the family of a man who was arrested for urinating on a public street and died two weeks later in the hospital from injuries sustained riding in a police van.

Dondi Johnson Sr., 43, had been arrested in November 2005 by officers Sendy Ferdinand and Michael Riser and transported in a police van by officer Nicole Leake.

Johnson complained about being in pain in the van and officers took him to Sinai Hospital, where he died two weeks later of a fractured spine, according to the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by his family, which sought $100 million. The lawsuit alleged that Leake drove recklessly and failed to properly seatbelt Johnson, causing his fatal injuries.

The jury found that Ferdinand and Riser acted negligently by detaining Johnson, handcuffing him and requesting that he be transported to Central Booking and Intake Center, instead of giving him a citation, according to a release from Johnson's family's lawyer, Kerry Staton.

The jury also found that Leake acted with gross negligence.

Although the verdict was reached Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court, it is still unclear whether the officers or the city will pay the damages.

The city was not named in the suit, but City Solicitor George Nilson said the city provided lawyers for the three officers and that if they were held liable, then the city will decide whether to pay through city funds or force the officers to pay out of their own pockets. He said the city is considering appealing the verdict.

Police department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the officers were still on the force, but no action had been taken against them.

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