Lawyer objects to demand for photo ID, is arrested then sues

Attorney files lawsuit against state alleging false arrest and imprisonment, seeks $700,000

September 02, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Norman Christopher Usiak was in a hurry. The attorney from Frederick had briefs to file, and in the rush, he couldn't remember where he put his wallet. He was wearing dark pants and a white T-shirt, an un-lawyerly ensemble a police officer described as "looking disheveled."

It was 4:10 in the afternoon and the Maryland Court of Appeals building in Annapolis closed in 20 minutes.

The regular bailiffs had gone home, replaced by a police officer for the Maryland Department of General Services, which runs and secures state office buildings.

Usiak signed his name in the register but refused the officer's demand to show a photo Identification.

Police wrote in a report that the attorney told them he left his driver's license in his car and didn't feel like walking back. Usiak said he refused out of principle.

He said that being forced to show an ID "is the antithesis of access to a free court system. I took a stand. It was offensive to me." He said the rule bars people who don't have picture IDs from availing themselves of the justice system.

Usiak's "stand" on June 1, 2007, landed him in handcuffs and, he said, into a hot police car, where he was left until he vomited. Then he was taken to a police station, where he said he was shackled to a basement pipe before being fingerprinted, photographed and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct and failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer.

A District Court commissioner released him without requiring bail. She wrote in her report that there was "no probable cause for the warrantless arrest." Anne Arundel County prosecutors dropped all charges in the case.

Usiak sued in Circuit Court, and this week the case was moved to U.S. District Court in Baltimore, where Usiak is seeking $700,000 and alleging false arrest, false imprisonment and assault. A trial date has not been set.

In an interview, Usiak said he never had to show ID before the incident and never had to show ID after it. That raises the question of whether he simply met an overzealous police officer at the wrong moment, who was enforcing a rule that didn't exist and is not the policy of the court system.

All courts require a security screening, usually a pass through a metal detector, before entering. All courts ban weapons and some prohibit cell phones.

No courts in Baltimore or the surrounding area require visitors to show a photo ID, but Angelita Plemmer, a spokeswoman for Maryland's judiciary, said local authorities can make that a requirement if they wish. She said the Maryland Court of Appeals stopped the practice of asking for ID in late 2008 when it obtained a metal detector.

A spokesman for the Department of General Services declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In his charging document justifying the arrest, DGS Officer Robert L. Brown wrote that Usiak did get into the courthouse and was filing briefs in the second-floor clerk's office when officers confronted him. He and Sgt. Anthony Carr "advised him to step out of the doorway to which he refused," Brown wrote.

After a second warning, Brown wrote, "I placed my hand on his arm" and then noticed a "box cutter razor lying on the desk," near where the clerk was standing. His report says he removed Usiak from the office as the clerk ran through an adjoining door.

Brown said in the report that he placed Usiak under arrest, searched him and "recovered in his hand … his wallet containing his driver's license."

But Usiak's lawsuit contends that Brown "forcefully grabbed [his] upper arm and pulled him from the office." He said he was then detained for hours in the cruiser and at the station, and belittled by the officers, who he said threatened that they knew how to make charges "stick" and referred to "scumbag lawyers."

The lawyer said officers took his wedding band and never gave it back. He said he found his wallet, with his license inside, in his box of legal briefs.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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