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Lawsuit alleges police brutality, unlawful arrests during Baltimore unrest

Six men claim they were beaten, unlawfully arrested during Baltimore unrest

Six men who were arrested during last year's unrest but cleared of all charges have filed a police brutality lawsuit against the Baltimore Police Department, nearly two dozen officers and the state of Maryland.

The plaintiffs — including Larry Lomax, a 24-year-old Baltimore man whose pepper-spraying and arrest during a citywide curfew was captured on video that went viral — say city police officers "tore apart" their constitutionally protected rights amid heavy-handed enforcement during protests.

Lomax had three charges against him dropped and was acquitted of disorderly conduct.

Four other plaintiffs had all charges dropped, they say in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Baltimore Circuit Court. One man whose arm was broken during an altercation with police was never charged.

The plaintiffs include Albert Tubman, 45, and Roosevelt Johnson, 44, city men who say they were trying to avoid the protests when they were wrongly targeted and beaten by police with batons.

Other plaintiffs include Eric Glass, 27, a city man who says he was filming police when he was wrongly targeted by officers, thrown to the ground and kicked and punched; Andrew Fischer, 21, of the news outlet News2Share, who says he was working as a journalist when he was arrested for violating the curfew, from which media were exempted; and Myreq Williams, 21, who says police pulled him off a public bus one night after a protest.

Williams says police broke his arm, took him to a hospital and left him there without charging him.

The plaintiffs say they suffered a range of injuries at the hands of police, including abrasions, contusions, nerve damage, swelling and internal organ injuries.

Lomax says he suffered burning and intense pain from being targeted not with the normal pepper spray carried by officers, but with "an incapacitating spray used to disperse large crowds."

Spokesmen for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the Police Department and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh all said they could not comment on the pending litigation.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the Baltimore firm of William H. "Billy" Murphy, the attorney who negotiated a $6.4 million settlement for the family of Freddie Gray. Lomax is also being represented by attorney Wylie Stecklow.

Gray died last April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death touched off days of protests in Baltimore and beyond. On the day he was buried, the city erupted in riots, looting and arson. Gov. Larry Horgan deployed the National Guard, and Rawlings-Blake established a weeklong curfew.

Jason Downs, an attorney in Murphy's firm, said protesters felt their rights had been violated during the unrest, and many came to his office "with stories related to the protest and related to police brutality in general."

He said the lawsuit gives voice to some of those concerns.

 ”It's an indication that there were many people out there trying to exercise their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and officers in Baltimore City unfortunately did not respect those rights,” Downs said. “These are a few people whose rights were trampled on.”

Hundreds of people were arrested during the unrest and the curfew, but many were released without charges or with all charges against them dropped. Gov. Larry Hogan ordered that hundreds of people arrested during the rioting could be held longer than the normal 24 hours — and up to 48 hours — before seeing a court commissioner, a decision that was later upheld in Baltimore Circuit Court.

The handling of the arrests was harshly criticized by the Office of the Public Defender, though the police department defended the arrests as lawful and necessary amid a chaotic situation. Law enforcement officials at the time also said that some people who were released without charges could be charged at a later date, after additional investigation. However, only a small number of cases have been refiled, said Deputy Public Defender Natalie Finegar.

“It was a very small number of cases in which police were then asserting that there was some video tape” that captured the alleged crimes, said Finegar, who previously represented Lomax. The “vast majority” of people who were released without charges — some after spending days in jail — have never been re-charged, Finegar said.

She said she believes that is because police “didn’t actually have any information to charge them with.”

Time is running out for such charges as well. There is a statute of limitations for most misdemeanors in Maryland of one year.

Named defendants are former Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts, Lt. Christopher O'Ree, Sgts. Keith Gladstone and Joseph Landsman, Detective Daniel Hersl, and Officers Robert Hankard, Mark Neptune and James Craig, as well as 15 unidentified officers.

The plaintiffs seek from all of the defendants more than $75,000 in damages, plus interest and costs, for each of the plaintiffs on each of 10 counts: excessive force, illegal arrest, false imprisonment, deprivation of liberty and property, false arrest, battery, a pattern or practice of constitutional violations, civil conspiracy, negligence and gross negligence.

They also seek more than $75,000 in damages per plaintiff from Batts, the Baltimore Police Department and the state for negligent hiring, training and supervision, and more than $75,000 for each of the plaintiffs except Williams for malicious prosecution.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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