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Harford, state settle suit with man involved in 2013 altercation with deputy

Harford County and the State of Maryland have agreed to pay $35,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a Jarrettsville man who was injured during a 2013 high speed chase involving Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies.

In his suit, filed April 8 in Harford County Circuit Court, William R. Harvey V claimed injuries to his body and face were a result of the use of "unreasonable and excessive force" and other actions by two deputies, one of whom was convicted of reckless endangerment in connection with the incident and no longer works for the Sheriff's Office.

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"In cases like this you have to weigh the risk of an adverse verdict, the possible exposure, the cost to litigate – all these factors enter into it," Michael Comeau, a senior assistant county attorney, said in explaining the decision to settle.

Comeau said the county will pay $25,000 and the state, which was sued because Harford sheriff's deputies are considered state employees, will pay $10,000. The county share will come from a self-insurance fund, he said.

Lawyers for Harvey and his wife, who was a co-plaintiff, had sought $75,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages to be determined at trial.

The suit stemmed from an April 2013 incident in northern Harford that began when a vehicle driven by Harvey, who was alone, hit the rear end of an unmarked Sheriff's Office car being driven by Deputy First Class Christopher Behles, who was off-duty.

An altercation ensued that led to Harvey driving away from the scene and being pursued by Behles until Harvey's vehicle rolled over and he was arrested by Behles and another deputy. The suit claimed Harvey's injuries were a result of both the rollover and an alleged assault by the deputies.

The Sheriff's Office and the county lawyers have acknowledged that Behles, who was in plain clothes, discharged his service firearm during the initial altercation with Harvey, which was witnessed by Harvey's wife and their two daughters who were following in a second vehicle.

Harford County State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly brought criminal charges against Behles, who was subsequently indicted on charges of first- and second-degree assault. In April, he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless endangerment and received a suspended jail sentence and $2,000 fine, according to court records. Behles resigned from the Sheriff's Office on April 7, agency spokesperson Cristie Kahler said Thursday.

Harvey was charged with second-degree assault, resisting arrest and obstructing and hindering police, as well as traffic violations.

The criminal charges were dropped; however, on July 18, Harvey pleaded guilty to driving under the influence at the time of the 2013 incident. According to court records, he was fined $145, ordered to perform 75 hours of community service and ordered to pay $204.80 for the damage to the sheriff's vehicle.

According to the transcript from Harvey's sentencing, he told the judge: "I just regret the whole thing that day. I just feel ... remorse for the officer having to be involved and all that."

The second deputy who was named as a defendant was dropped from the lawsuit over the summer, according to court records. He remains with the Sheriff's Office, Kahler said.

Comeau said the allegations in the suit regarding what happened during Harvey's arrest were at wide variance with the accounts from the two deputies, who were the only people present other than Harvey.

But Comeau also said he believes that had the suit against Behles gone before a jury, it would have been "a big work-around" for the defense, particularly "when you had a deputy [Behles] who pleaded guilty to a crime. There would have been no getting around that fact."

Stephen Nolan, who represented Harvey in the lawsuit, said Thursday he does not discuss litigation or settlements.

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Comeau said he doubted that Behles, who was represented by a private lawyer in his criminal case, would be willing to comment on the lawsuit settlement and thus declined to provide contact information.

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