Federal jury exonerates Annapolis police officers sued for wrongful arrest

Phil Davis
Contact Reporterpdavis@capgaznews.com

A federal jury found Wednesday that three Annapolis police officers did not violate a Prince George’s County man’s rights when they detained him during an investigation in 2014.

After a little more than three hours of deliberation and two weeks of testimony, the jury rejected claims that the officers kicked Towhee Sparrow in the head and called him a racial slur while they were searching for a suspect in an armed assault.

Sparrow claimed in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court that Sgt. Christopher Kintop, Officer Ralph DeFalco and former officer Robert Reese II, now Harford County sheriff’s deputy violated his Fourth Amendment rights and used excessive force in detaining him on June 5, 2014. He said he suffered brain damage and other injuries.

Assistant City Attorney Gary Elson focused heavily on Sparrow’s credibility in closing arguments Wednesday, saying Sparrow was the only one claiming the officers called him racial slurs even though his father and uncle were at the scene.

He questioned as to why Sparrow didn’t take photos of the injuries nor did his attorneys bring any witnesses who said they saw any bruises or lacerations.

“It’s easy to say to a doctor ‘I got punched,’” Elson said.

Attorneys for Sparrow and the city declined to comment immediately following the verdict.

Police say that Sparrow was not the man they were seeking in June 5, 2014 after receiving a report from a couple who was threatened at gunpoint by a man on a dirt bike at a shopping center on Bay Ridge Road.

Witnesses testified during the two-week trial they told officers the man who threatened them was a Hispanic or Asian teenager. Sparrow is black.

Reese detained Sparrow at gunpoint after seeing him ride on what he thought was a dirt bike in a nearby community.

During the trial, the city has defended its actions, saying Sparrow was detained as part of an active investigation. The officers maintained throughout the case there was no intent to harm Sparrow and that he was detained lawfully.

Sparrow claimed Reese kicked him in the head and that DeFalco pulled him up while he was handcuffed on the ground after another officer proclaimed they’d found a gun that turned out to be a cell phone, causing brain damage and carpal tunnel syndrome. He also claimed Kintop held a gun to his head and called him a racial slur.

During final arguments, Sparrow’s attorney, Charles Bernstein, pointed to medical records immediately preceding and following the events, saying they showed brain damage Sparrow suffered as a result of the incident that had not been detected before.

“The proof here is overwhelming,” attorney Charles Bernstein said. “It came from the kick. There is nothing else to explain the brain damage that he suffered that night.”

The lawsuit took on significant racial overtones, as Kintop, DeFalco and Reese are white and Sparrow is black. The description of the man police were searching for that night was Asian or Hispanic.

This is the second time Kintop has been named in a wrongful arrest lawsuit. A state District Court judge found Kintop and the city liable after he changed the suspect's race on an arrest warrant in 2007 in a domestic violence case from black to white, leading to the arrest and detention of the wrong man.

In May 2013, while the case was pending, then-police Chief Michael Pristoop promoted Kintop to sergeant. A judge ruled against the city in March 2014.

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