Montgomery County settles with family of man who died after being shot by Taser

Montgomery County officials have settled a civil rights violation claim with the family of a Gaithersburg man who died after county police officers shot him with a Taser during a 2013 arrest.

The county paid the family $1.75 million but admitted no liability, the county’s chief of litigation, Patricia Via, said Thursday. The amount was approved by the finance director and covered by the county’s self-insurance program. It does not require approval by the County Council, she said.

The settlement was reached in June.

The family alleged in a recent letter written to county officials that officers violated Anthony Howard Sr.’s civil rights during the April 19, 2013, arrest.

“The County recently settled a claim filed by the estate of Anthony Howard Sr. and Anthony Howard Jr. involving [the elder] Mr. Howard’s interaction with police,” Via said in an email. “The settlement was made without any admission of liability on the part of the county and the officers.”

Baltimore attorney Hassan Murphy, who represented the Howards, said “Anthony Howard's death was tragic and unnecessary.” But, he added, county officials “stepped up to the plate and provided us with information and engaged with the family in a collaborative process that resulted in a settlement agreement.”

Howard’s case, including a video of his arrest, was featured in a six-month Baltimore Sun investigation last year into every Taser use recorded by police departments in Maryland over three years. The data analysis revealed that officers frequently failed to follow best practices identified by the U.S. Department of Justice and Taser International.

The Sun found that Montgomery County recorded four deaths of people shocked with Tasers by county officers since 2009, the most in the state. The finding prompted County Executive Isiah Leggett and the County Council to review Taser use by police.

An independent review determined that police in the county were not overusing the electronic weapon and that the department’s policies should be a model for police agencies elsewhere. It found that use of the devices in 2014 and 2015 declined significantly from 2013, when Howard faced off with officers.

When Montgomery County police encountered Howard in April 2013, the 51-year-old man was behaving erratically. High on cocaine, Howard started the standoff by dancing barefoot on an SUV roof, barking and muttering gibberish in a quiet Gaithersburg cul-de-sac.

Police said in an incident report that Howard had thrown “boulders” and charged at officers. But a 17-minute video taken by a resident and obtained by The Sun showed that when officers approached Howard for the last time, he was standing still, holding a child’s scooter. Officers fired two Tasers, shooting electrified darts connected by long wires into Howard’s body.

After he dropped the scooter and keeled over onto a flower bed, police continued to pump electricity into Howard; he kicked wildly on his back with four officers standing over him. Police fired their Tasers at Howard nine times for a total of 37 seconds, data shows — far above the recommended limit of 15 seconds. He stopped breathing and died shortly afterward.

Anthony Howard’s sister, Robbin, told The Sun that she and her family had been asking questions about his death but had gotten few answers. The family abandoned legal action against Montgomery County years ago after police declined to turn over any videos they had obtained from neighbors who recorded the incident on their mobile devices.

She and her relatives first saw the video of her brother’s arrest when The Baltimore Sun provided her with a copy last year.

She and Anthony Howard Jr. filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Maryland in October last year. They sought $50 million for each of eight claims, including allegations of excessive force by police.

The lawsuit stated that Howard never attempted to flee, kept a safe distance from the officers and bystanders and “did not pose any legitimate, immediate threat to the physical safety of the police officers or bystanders.”

The legal action was voluntarily dismissed days later when settlement negotiations began.

ddonovan@baltsun.com

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