The Baltimore mayor's chief of staff and two other government officials sued an Ocean City Domino's pizza and related businesses for $30 million after employees at the beachfront pizzeria refused to serve them and allegedly imprisoned them in the restaurant for five to 10 minutes about 1:30 a.m. Aug. 15.
The owner of the Ocean City restaurant, John S. Basil, said service was refused because the three were "uncooperative," "belligerent" and "intoxicated," and denies that the three were held against their will, according to court papers.
A Worcester County Circuit Court judge ruled that most of the business entities connected with Domino's are not liable in the case, but is allowing a $5 million suit against the local establishment, Ocean City Extra Cheese, to move forward.
The incident occurred while the three were at the annual Maryland Association of Counties conference, which is attended by the state's top lawmakers and their staff.
It came to light last week because one of the plaintiffs, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's chief of staff, Demaune Millard, is involved in an unrelated legal matter. He and a former girlfriend have accused each other of assault stemming from an argument this month on an Inner Harbor cruise ship. He is on paid leave.
The other two plaintiffs in the civil suit are Donald R. Huskey, Baltimore's assistant city solicitor, and Jonathan Carpenter, the deputy director of the Minority Business Enterprise office of the state Department of Transportation. The three are being represented by Governor E. Jackson III, a lawyer in the Baltimore city solicitor's office. Jackson also has a small private practice and is not representing them on city time, said City Solicitor George A. Nilson.
Nilson said he was unaware of the Worcester County lawsuit until this week, when Millard's other case was in the news. "It is an unusual enough situation," Nilson said. "I'm mildly disappointed that I didn't know."
Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Dixon, said the mayor became aware of the case earlier this year when Millard was deposed. "This is a case that is outside city business for all parties involved," Peterson said.
Millard, Huskey and Carpenter were attending a political event "sponsored for state governmental leaders by the City of Baltimore" at Castaway's Restaurant, according to court papers. An invitation shows the event, called Baltimore on the Shore, was scheduled from 8:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. and was hosted by Dixon and by Verizon.
The three plaintiffs said they left the party about 1:30 a.m. and that an employee buzzed them into the pizza parlor, which is nearby. At that point they "were in a great mood as they had enjoyed a great day at the annual MACO conference and a planned event at Castaway's," according to court papers they filed.
Carpenter was "singing a current musical song and Plaintiff Millard finished a sentence," according to the plaintiffs' account.
An employee at the counter said: "I'm not going to serve you. I don't have time. No service," according to the plaintiffs.
Millard asked again to place an order.
Carpenter said: "If they aren't going to serve us, I am out of here," according to court papers.
The door was locked and none of the employees would buzz them out, according to the plaintiffs' account.
Millard then asked to order again: "Is anyone going to serve us. Why are you not going to serve us?" according to court papers.
An employee said he was going to call the police, according to the court papers. Documents show he never did call police.
Huskey said: "We are leaving," but still could not leave the restaurant because none of the employees had released the automatic door.
Millard said: "You won't serve us and now you won't let us leave."
An employee engaged the door, allowing the three to leave.
The three were "disheartened, embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of the defendants," according to court papers. Millard said he recalled "being upset regarding this incident for numerous days," according to court papers.
In a deposition, the store owner, Basil, said his manager, Naveed Bajwa, refused service because the three were "not being cooperative" and seemed "intoxicated."
Basil was not present that evening but investigated the matter later. According to his account, the three men "were not giving an order and they were singing and they were being loud. At that point in time [the manager] chose to deny them service and asked them to leave."
Asked to explain what was meant by uncooperative, Basil said in court papers: "They were singing; they would not place an order when asked what they would like; they became very agitated when [the store manager] was trying to get their order and they would not do it, and they made some threatening comments" to the store manager.
"Something to the effect that he was a punk and that if he was in the city, things would be handled differently," Basil said in the documents.
"After what might have been a minute or two, they decided that they were going to leave. The door was locked by the magnetic device at which time [the store manager] pushed the button and they left," Basil said in the documents.
Millard and Huskey said they had two alcoholic drinks each at the earlier party. Carpenter said he had two to three alcoholic drinks.
The lawsuit makes no direct allegation related to race, though court papers indicate that the three plaintiffs are African-Americans. The store manager is "of Middle Eastern descent," according to the plaintiff's account. Another employee was "Asian" and several others were white. The lawsuit does not allege that race played a role in the incident.