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City police officer settles lawsuit over shootings

A Baltimore police sergeant who claimed he was never treated for post-traumatic stress disorder after he fatally shot a man in 2005 has settled a lawsuit against the city, in a deal that allows him to retire with his pension, according to court documents and his attorney.

Under terms of the settlement, Richard A. Willard, 45, dropped the federal suit and a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; the Police Department canceled an administrative hearing that could have led to his termination.

As a result, Willard will retire effective July 1, the day after his 20th anniversary on the police force, said his lawyer, Joshua G. Whitaker. He will be eligible for an annual pension equaling half his roughly $73,000 salary. He has been on medical leave since 2010.

"They had Richard in a classic dilemma," Whitaker said. "He was told he would be terminated and lose everything he worked for. He had to make a deal. It was literally an offer he couldn't refuse. He took a deal that at least guaranteed something for him and his kids going forward."

The lawyer said that had Willard resigned or been fired before July 1, he would have received the money he had paid into the pension system — about $70,000 — but not yearly payments.

Police officials said the administrative case involving Willard's possible termination was unrelated to his lawsuit, though he alleged that it was retribution for his claims.

There also is a pending criminal assault case against Willard that he said stemmed from a dispute with his current wife's boyfriend in Howard County. A trial is scheduled for August.

Whitaker said there were other internal charges as well, related to an on-duty misconduct issue, but he declined to discuss them. The police union attorney handling that aspect of the case was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Willard, who owns and operates a gourmet grilled-cheese food truck, did not return calls seeking a comment.

Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson declined to comment on the case, which was dismissed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. The court documents do not offer an explanation, and litigation ended before the city filed its response to the allegations.

But in February, when Willard filed his lawsuit, police rejected allegations that officers are denied treatment after police-involved shootings. The department noted that a Critical Incident Stress Team responds to all cases in which officers shoot people, and counseling is required before they return to duty. In some cases, officers must go through additional screening at a psychiatric office in Towson.

So far this year, city police officers have shot four people, three of them fatally. In addition, a Baltimore County officer shot and killed a man in South Baltimore after he stole a police car and sparked a chase.

City police shot 14 people, killing five, in 2011, and shot 10 people, killing 2, in 2010.

Willard had been involved in the fatal shooting of a 20-year-old man in 2005 outside the former Murphy Homes public housing high-rise in West Baltimore. Police had confronted what appeared to be a holdup, and one of the men pulled out a gun and fired.

A running gunbattle ensued with Willard and other officers joining in, and it ended with the gunman shot. Four officers, including Willard, had opened fire. Willard claimed in his lawsuit that four years later he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, but was denied treatment.

Willard said in his suit that he "felt regret for killing the young man, despite the justified and even necessary nature of his actions." He said that the department denied his request for early disability retirement in 2009.

After Willard sued, another current officer and several former officers came forward and said that they, too, had not received the help they needed after shooting someone.

An active duty officer, Andrew W. Gotwols Jr., said in an interview that he suffered nightmares after killing two people nine months apart in 2006 and 2007. In one dream, he said "guys are trying to shoot and kill me, and I'm trying to shoot and kill them." After the interview, city police pulled him from the street and put him on "medical suspension."

But other officers involved in shootings, including a retired major who was involved in the same incident as Willard in 2005, said in February that they received help and suffered no emotional problems. The retired major also had shot and injured a man in 1991, and was standing next to a man shot and killed by an officer in 1995.

The city police union said that the department does a good job of counseling officers in the immediate aftermath of a police-involved shooting, but that more needs to be done long-term.

Peter.hermann@baltsun.com

Shootings by Baltimore police officers

2006 — 15 shootings, 5 fatal

2007 — 33 shootings, 13 fatal

2008 — 21 shootings, 13 fatal

2009 — 22 shootings, 2 fatal

2010 — 10 shootings, 2 fatal

2011 — 14 shootings, 5 fatal

2012 — 4 shootings, 3 fatal (does not include man killed by Baltimore County police officer in city)

Source: Baltimore Police Department

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