Charles Co. arson case leads to settlement with security firm

An African-American couple whose newly built Charles County neighborhood was targeted in a racially motivated arson in 2004 has settled a federal lawsuit with the security company hired to protect the development, according to the couple's attorneys.

Terms of the deal with Security Services of America, a subsidiary of ABM Industries Inc. that employed one of the men convicted in the case, were undisclosed. Messages left with the security company and its lawyers were not returned Thursday.

Terri Rookard and Derrick Potts had just moved into their new 3,700-square-foot home with their three children in early December of that year when the fires were set, damaging two dozen residences in a rear section of the Hunters Brooke development in Indian Head. The Rookard-Potts family was the first to occupy a house in the area, which was still largely under construction. They fled the scene, terrified, as ashes rained down on their car, according to news accounts.

"Obviously, no amount of money can ever erase that memory," said Steven H. Schulman, a partner at Washington law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld, which represented the plaintiffs. "It was pretty horrible."

The Rookard-Pitts home was largely untouched, according to Baltimore Sun reports at the time. Twenty other homes were destroyed and several others were damaged in what came to be known as the largest residential arson in Maryland history.

Nearly a dozen more dwellings were found to be splashed with accelerant and probably would have burned if the arsonists — five men, including a security company employee, who were part of a makeshift gang and convicted of the crimes in federal court — had taken the time to ignite them, prosecutors said.

Schulman's team filed civil lawsuits on behalf of 30 other minority homeowners who hadn't yet moved in, though the cases were dismissed last year. The firm plans to appeal the ruling.

Criminal prosecutors have previously said that the fires, which caused $10 million in damages, were set for multiple reasons, including anger over black residents moving into Charles County.

Aaron Speed, the security company employee, blamed the death of one of his twin sons on the inadequate response of an African-American emergency worker and allegedly told one of his co-conspirators that all blacks "have to die," according to court records. He and others chose houses based on the race of their owners, the records claim.

None of the men convicted of arson in federal court was charged with a hate crime.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad