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Ex-officer asks county to pay $1 million damages

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A former police officer, who was forced to resign after a Laurel woman accused him of rape, has asked Anne Arundel County taxpayers to pay the $1 million in damages he owes her.

A panel that oversees the county's Self Insurance Fund has denied the request, but the former officer, Michael Dennis Ziegler, has appealed. The county Board of Appeals announced this week that it will hear the case Aug. 29.

"You by your own admission embarked on a personal pursuit of a sexual liaison. . .," the panel's chairman, Jerome W. Klasmeier, wrote in response to Mr. Ziegler's request.

"The sexual intercourse which followed resulted in allegations of sexual battery . . . constitutional violations, and a damage award against you," Mr. Klasmeier said. Paying that award is Mr. Ziegler's responsibility, not the county's, he wrote.

A U.S. District Court jury awarded Erin K. Jones $1.05 million in damages in September after she filed suit alleging that Mr. Ziegler violated her civil rights. A similar complaint against the county is pending.

In March 1991, Mr. Ziegler, an 18-year police veteran, resigned from the force and was convicted of police misconduct as part of a plea agreement with the county state's attorney. He served no jail time.

Mr. Ziegler's attorney, Robert C. Verderaime, contends that the county should pay the damages in the civil suit because his client was on duty and in uniform on Nov. 15, 1990, when the incident occurred.

"He was wrong. He wasn't supposed to be having sex while on duty," Mr. Verderaime said.

However, he added, "He was a police officer at the time. The county put him out on the street. He was performing under the cloak of authority given to him."

Then-Officer Ziegler stopped the car Ms. Jones' was driving on a Pasadena street for alleged traffic violations, according to testimony during the civil trial. He did not arrest her or write a citation, however, but drove her to a church parking lot where she testified that he raped her in the front seat of his cruiser.

Mr. Ziegler testified that the encounter was consensual.

Mr. Verderaime applied to the county insurance fund to pay the damages early this year. The panel denied the request on May 30, and Mr. Ziegler appealed on June 26.

The board will hear the case at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 29 in Annapolis.

County Attorney Phillip C. Scheibe said the county has paid Mr. Ziegler's legal fees until now in deference to its contract with the police union. But he said the county is not responsible for the damages because Mr. Ziegler's actions were not part of his police duties.

"This was obviously outside the scope of his employment," Mr. Scheibe said.

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