Frustrated with court sentence, drowning victim's family files lawsuit

Family says 4-year sentence for man who pushed son into Inner Harbor is not enough

August 29, 2011|By Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

Dissatisfied with the punishment expected to be handed down Tuesday by a city judge, the family of a 22-year-old man who drowned after being pushed into the Inner Harbor in 2008 said it has filed a $5 million wrongful-death lawsuit against the man convicted for his death.

Wayne Black, a 21-year-old from Pasadena, is scheduled to be sentenced to a four-year prison term as part of his plea agreement. He pleaded guilty to shoving Ankush Gupta, a University of Maryland engineering student, into the harbor three years ago. The circumstances of Gupta's death had been a mystery until police received a tip that he had been pushed by Black, who later confessed.

Black was initially charged with first-degree murder, which prosecutors later downgraded to second-degree murder. He pleaded guilty on July 28 to involuntary manslaughter It carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Steven D. Silverman, an attorney representing the Gupta family, said Black should have to face additional penalties.

"The family's obviously devastated, and they are dissatisfied with the anticipated sentence and want to take further action," said Silverman, who is bringing the case with associate Craig L. Zissel. "When a family loses a child, it's never about the money. What this is about is achieving some sense of justice, and this family doesn't feel like justice has been served to date."

According to prosecutors, Gupta and friends had been driving to Montgomery County from New York City and stopped in Baltimore to stretch their legs. Black asked Gupta, who had walked off on his own, for a cigarette and pushed him into the water; Gupta could not swim and drowned in the dark waters.

Black's defense attorney, Howard Cardin, could not be reached Monday but has said his client had been consumed with guilt since the incident and confided in a friend, who notified police.

A spokesman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said in July that prosecutors pushed for a 10-year sentence but that Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock reduced it to four years, based on sentencing guidelines.

After the plea hearing, Gupta's family and friends denounced the sentence as unjust. At 22, he was the only child still living at home in Montgomery County with his parents, who emigrated from India when Ankush was 12. He cared for them, delivering medication to his disabled father, Anoop, and shared his dreams of being a NASA engineer with his mother. Friends described him as bright, selfless and hardworking.

"This man must learn from his mistakes," his mother said in a statement for the court in which she asked for strong punishment for Black. "He has broken up a family who has nothing left in America. He killed our American dream and our son."

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