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Howard County man files lawsuit alleging Baltimore police officer pulled gun on him when he was a teen

A teenager who accused an off-duty Baltimore police officer of pointing a gun at him for no reason three years ago has filed a federal lawsuit against the officer and the Baltimore police department, which he said botched an internal affairs investigation into the matter.

Jawone Nicholson’s lawsuit alleges excessive force and false imprisonment, and seeks at least $330,000 from officer Damond Durant and the Baltimore Police Department. Durant faced internal discipline in the matter, but a circuit judge tossed the case against him because police missed key filing deadlines.

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In an earlier case, the city paid $55,000 in 2014 to a man who accused Durant of assaulting him and breaking his jaw while responding to a call for service.

The new federal lawsuit alleges Durant approached Nicholson, then 16, while he was sitting outside his Howard County home with a friend in November 2017, waiting for an after-school pickup van. Durant, who lived nearby, did not identify himself as a police officer and questioned why Nicholson was in the area, the lawsuit alleges.

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“Plaintiff explained that he lived in the area and was waiting for his ride. This did not satisfy Defendant Durant, who continued to intimidatingly question the then-minor Plaintiff,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff attempted to walk away and call his grandmother, but Defendant Durant pulled a firearm and trained it on the 16-year-old.”

A Baltimore police spokeswoman said the department would have no comment on the lawsuit. Durant, who was served the lawsuit at the police station, does not have a lawyer listed in court records and did not return a phone call seeking comment.

According to the lawsuit, Nicholson, standing with his friend, told Durant he did not have to answer his questions, and Durant threatened to call police. The boys told him to go ahead, since they were doing nothing wrong, according to the suit.

The lawsuit says that Durant began placing his hands in his coat pocket, which caused Nicholson and his friend to fear for their lives. As Nicholson attempted to walk away to call his grandmother, the lawsuit alleges, Durant began “antagonizing” Nicholson.

That’s when he pulled out a gun and pointed it at the teenager, according to the complaint.

At first, Nicholson thought he was being robbed, the suit alleges. While on the phone with his grandmother, Nicholson told her that someone was holding him at gunpoint behind their home, according to the suit. Nicholson’s grandmother, sister and mother came out to help him.

Nicholson’s mother, Erica Hamlett, asked Durant to show his hands, which were in his pocket, the lawsuit alleges. Durant walked closer to the family, saying he he did not have to show his hand because he was “Baltimore city," and soon after pulled out his police badge, according to the complaint.

Both sides then called Howard County police, according to the suit.

For the next four months, Nicholson had to walk past the same area outside his home, “forcing him to relive the life-threatening encounter and live in constant fear for his safety," according to the lawsuit.

Troubles escalated for the family when Nicholson’s mother went to file a complaint against Durant with Baltimore police officials on a weekend day, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says officers laughed at her and stated, “We heard about this. At least your son didn’t die," and told her to come back on Monday because no internal investigation officers were available on Saturday.

Nicholson’s mother filed a peace order in Howard County against Durant, according to Maryland court records, and also filed a complaint with the Baltimore police Civilian Review Board on Dec. 7, 2017, according to police department records.

The lawsuit alleges that the police internal affairs investigation was conducted in a “negligent manner” that included filing a disciplinary action after the statute of limitations. A Baltimore Circuit Court judge tossed out police discipline actions against Durant and 11 other officers who faced allegations that were upheld by internal affairs because the department failed to file the charges within the one-year deadline.

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Hamlett said the incident left a great deal of “mental strain” on her son as she worked to file a complaint with the Baltimore police headquarters and the civilian review board, and to obtain the Howard County peace order. Nicholson, now 19, had never had a gun pulled on him before, let alone by a police officer, Hamlett said.

“It leaves a scar on you forever. The encounters that he will eventually have with police down the line, like a traffic stop, causes stress and anxiety for him," Hamlett said. “And he was right in that situation, so I showed him you don’t back down, you fight for what’s right.”

The lawsuit points to the fact that Durant had been cited for misconduct previously after being accused of assaulting and breaking a citizen’s jaw while responding to a call for service in 2014. The city settled the civil case in 2014, agreeing to pay $55,000 to the accuser.

Durant, who joined the department in 2001, made $105,167 in salary and overtime for the last fiscal year, according to city records.

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