Police sued over suicide

The Baltimore Sun

The mother of a man who leapt to his death from a top floor at Mercy Hospital while in police custody is suing the Baltimore Police Department, saying that a breakdown in protocols "enabled and allowed" him to break free and commit suicide.

The lawyer for Damon D. Smith's mother, Hazella White of Owings Mills, said the Police Department's decision to discipline the officers who were watching her son supported her efforts to seek damages. The officers maintain that they did nothing wrong.

"The department themselves recognized" a breakdown, said attorney Selig Solomon. "They made the case for us."

Smith, 27, was picked up by state troopers Oct. 26, 2007, after crashing his vehicle on Interstate 795. He had self-inflicted wounds and a check of outstanding warrants revealed that he was being sought by Baltimore police in connection with the killing of his former girlfriend, Veronica Fludd.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in Baltimore Circuit Court, argues that police were aware that Smith was suicidal but that Officer Wilbert Perez helped loosen Smith's restraints so he could go to the bathroom. They argue that Perez should have called medical personnel and that he had worked too many consecutive hours.

"Because of the direct actions and gross negligence of defendant Perez, Damon D. Smith was then able to successfully free himself" and jump out a 10th-floor window on Oct. 28, Solomon wrote.

The Baltimore Sun reported in September that Perez and Sgt. Carrie Everett, the shift supervisor that day, believed that they had been wrongly disciplined under a broad rule for violations that are not specifically outlined in the agency's general orders. Perez said the protocols themselves were flawed but that the incident was largely unpreventable.

After the article was published, Perez and Everett were disciplined for speaking to the media. A department spokesman declined to comment, citing agency policy against discussing pending litigation.

The lawsuit seeks $10 million in damages from the city, the Police Department and Perez.

"They knew that [Smith was suicidal] from the moment they took custody, and obviously they didn't do the job they were supposed to do," Solomon said.

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