A Baltimore City jury awarded $25 million Tuesday to a former detainee attacked inside the now-shuttered Baltimore City Detention Center.
Daquan Wallace was a 20-year-old detainee inside the Baltimore City Detention Center, awaiting trial, when he was brutally beaten Oct. 18, 2014, according to his suit. His attorneys allege the assailants were gang members, and left him with a traumatic brain injury and in a coma for two months, according to Baltimore City Circuit Court documents and an interview with his attorney, Cary J. Hansel.
Wallace now uses a wheelchair and is unable to talk, Hansel said.
After securing the $25 million jury award, Hansel said he would contest the state’s $200,000 limit on tort claims against the state. He also said a companion lawsuit has been filed in federal court where no cap would apply.
Wallace’s case against the state alleges that at least three employees of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services cooperated with gang members at the jail to transfer Wallace to a less supervised, more dangerous area and enable the beating, court documents say.
A spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services who did not wish to be named said the three employees no longer work for the department but would not comment on any disciplinary actions or outcomes from personnel investigations.
Gov. Larry Hogan shut down the jail in 2015, saying the decrepit conditions at the state-run facility were a “black eye” for Maryland. Officials had called for the Civil War-era jail to be torn down and rebuilt since 1938.
After an internal investigation of Wallace’s beating, the department was unable to pinpoint any suspects and nobody was charged criminally, according to another spokesman, Mark Vernarelli.
In 2014, Wallace’s mother, Nicole Wallace, called detention officials multiple times to plead for help for her son, who she said was being routinely beaten for refusing to join a gang, according to court documents.
Detention employees allegedly retaliated against Wallace for complaining by transferring him to a housing area with more dangerous gang members. The new area offered more private spaces overseen by fewer officers to more violent members of the Black Guerilla Family, according to court documents.
In 2013, state and federal officials said the gang had effectively taken control of the jail, running a drug smuggling conspiracy in concert with corrections officers. Several dozen people were charged with various crimes, and at least 40 have either been found guilty or pleaded guilty.
An employee allegedly cited false accusations of Wallace attempting to extort from other prisoners as a pretense for the transfer, according to court documents. The day he was transferred, his new cellmate was ordered to go to dinner. Nearby gang members were allowed to stay behind in their cells, against jail policy, court documents allege. Wallace was beaten within minutes. When his cellmate returned from dinner, “he found Mr. Wallace unconscious and blood on the wall,” according to court documents.
The cells were supposed to all be locked by one of the three officers cited in the case, according to court documents.
Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Attorney General, which defended the case on behalf of the state, said it was reviewing the order.
Wallace was represented by Hansel and Larry Greenberg.
“This verdict is a cry for justice, not just for this family, but also for all victims of civil rights violations," Hansel said in a statement.
Hansel said he believes his client can avoid the state cap, noting that no cap would apply to the federal suit.
Timothy Maloney, a Prince George’s County attorney who unsuccessfully challenged the state’s limit on tort damages, said he negotiated a $6.25 million settlement with Prince George’s County in May 2017 after he took a state tort claim to federal court.
Maloney represented the family of Manuel Espina, who was fatally shot by a Prince George’s County police officer in 2008.
After the family sued, a jury ruled in their favor, finding the officer acted with malice and awarding them $11.5 million.
However, that award was capped by the state law that limits monetary awards in lawsuits against local governments to $200,000 per plaintiff or $500,000 for claims connected to a single incident.
Maloney challenged the cap, arguing that the General Assembly could not pass laws capping damages on claims that arise from alleged violations of the state’s constitution. The Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, disagreed and upheld the cap in March 2015.
Maloney said he was only able to get the $6.25 million settlement with the county because he filed a federal lawsuit that was not subject to the state caps.
“The tragedy is that the claimant shouldn’t have to go to federal court to address violations of their state constitutional rights,” Maloney said. “Effectively, that’s what happens in these cases.”