A Baltimore man filed a $210 million civil lawsuit yesterday against the city Police Department, a former commissioner and several officers in connection with a 2006 incident during which he says a band of rogue cops held him at gunpoint in the street, stripped him and searched his rectum in front of about 30 onlookers.
The federal suit is the second filed since March in U.S. District Court in Baltimore alleging "widespread and persistent" civil rights violations by police officers who belonged to an elite "Special Enforcement Team" that worked mainly in the southeastern part of the city.
The SET unit was dismantled and its officers reassigned in 2006 after allegations of misconduct surfaced, leading the city prosecutor's office to dismiss more than 100 Circuit Court cases the officers had investigated in the previous two years.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment yesterday on the lawsuits, the employment status of the named officers, the department's procedural regulations regarding rectal examination and the outcome of internal investigations.
"We take all lawsuits very seriously and investigate in the most efficient manner possible," Guglielmi said. Until the department's legal team has thoroughly reviewed the case, he said, he "can't comment specifically" on it or "anything that touches" it.
The physical violation described in yesterday's 43-page complaint is the "ultimate degradation of a person's civil rights," said Steven D. Silverman, the attorney representing plaintiff Daryl A. Martin, a 35-year-old Navy veteran who works as a manager at a retail shop.
According to the complaint, Martin and a friend were on their way to a tailor for a custom suit fitting on a weekday afternoon in April 2006 when their Buick Lucerne was pulled over in the 900 block of Patterson Park Ave. by two sets of officers. A marked police car carrying Officer Antonio Rodriquez and an unidentified officer blocked the Buick in front, while an unmarked car holding Officers Shakil Moss and William Harris blocked the back end, the complaint says.
Rodriquez asked Martin for his license and registration, then ordered both passengers out of the car and began to search the Buick while Moss frisked the plaintiff under gunpoint, the complaint says. Moss then donned a rubber glove and lowered Martin's pants and underwear, according to the document.
"To the Plaintiff's complete and utter horror, in broad daylight and in the presence [of] the gathered crowd, Moss forced a gloved finger into the Plaintiff's rectum," found nothing, then threw the glove to the ground, the court document states. Shortly thereafter, with no explanation, the officers "sped away."
Martin reported the incident to a police internal investigation division, which retrieved the glove and sent it to a lab for examination. DNA from both Moss and Martin was found, according to the complaint.
Martin, who is black, contends that he was targeted because of his race. He says that the officers' behavior was systemic and tolerated by Police Department leadership, including then-Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm and current Deputy Commissioner Deborah Owens, both of whom are also named in the suit.
Silverman said that his office reviewed "scores and scores of prior arrest records" and found numerous "obvious and blatant constitutional violations by this rogue group."
The complaint alleges nearly 50 instances of questionable activity by officers, which frequently included spotting drugs from vast distances, eliciting spontaneous confessions and regular "serendipitous discovery of individuals possessing contraband."
"It's clear the department should have had every obligation to review their prior arrest [records], and if they had done so, would have clearly seen that they were running all over the civil rights of the city of Baltimore," Silverman said.
A similar lawsuit, filed in March by 17 plaintiffs, alleges that officers, including Moss, illegally detained, assaulted, searched, humiliated and generally terrorized residents without justification. In a court filing, Hamm and Owens denied the allegations against them in the earlier suit.