Dead P.G. officer at center of police brutality lawsuit

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Local,Crime,Ben Giles

A Prince George's County officer who died in a high-speed police chase in August is at the center of an ongoing police brutality lawsuit.

Officer Adrian Morris, who was killed in the line of duty while chasing a stolen vehicle on Interstate 95, and the Prince George's County government were sued in April by a tire store employee who claims Morris beat him without provocation in June 2011.

Glen Burnie resident Derrick Thomas is seeking at least $10 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the county, which Thomas claims "permitted and tolerated a pattern or practice of unjustified, unreasonable, and illegal excessive force and brutality," according to court records.

The lawsuit claims Morris beat Thomas after an angry customer called officers to Tire World, located at 14313 Baltimore Ave. in Laurel.

Morris is accused of violating Thomas' constitutional rights and committing assault and battery.

Attorneys filed a notice on Oct. 15 substituting Morris' estate as a defendant in place of Morris himself. The legal procedure allows Thomas to continue to pursue all his legal options in the case, according to attorney Steven Vinick.

"We're trying to allow a respectful period of time for the estate to get their affairs in order," said Puja Gupta, another attorney representing Thomas. But "that doesn't change the fact that Mr. Thomas was injured."

The bulk of the case is against the county, Vinick said. The complaint cites multiple prior occasions in which police allegedly used excessive force, including a March 2008 incident in which an off-duty Prince George's County officer shot Trenton Brooks in the back. Brooks was awarded $225,000 in damages in October 2010.

Vinick also represented the family of Manuel de Jesus Espina, who was beaten, shot and killed by an off-duty Prince George's County officer in August 2008.

In March 2011, a jury awarded Espina's family $11.5 million, reportedly the largest amount awarded by a jury in a Prince George's officer misconduct case.

Any damages sought by Thomas in the case would be the responsibility of the county, not Morris' estate, Vinick said.

A Prince George's County Circuit Court judge split the case. Claims against Morris and the county will be settled in separate trials if necessary. Complaints against Morris will head to trial first, according to court records.

County attorneys did not respond to a request for comment.

Any internal complaints against officers are considered a personnel matter and are not permitted by law to be disclosed, according to Assistant Chief Kevin Davis.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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Ben Giles

Staff Writer - Crime Beat
The Washington Examiner