Click below to hear The Dagger’s Aaron Cahall discuss this story with WBAL 1090 AM’s Bill Vanko.[audio:http://www.daggerpress.com/wp-content/uploads/5-1-Taser.mp3|titles=5-1 Taser]
The family of a Harford County Detention Center inmate who died after he was stun-gunned by jail officers three years ago has filed a new wrongful death lawsuit against the county, Sheriff Jesse Bane, and eight Sheriff’s Office employees, seeking a whopping $420 million in damages.
The suit, filed April 12 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges that two Sheriff’s Office deputies conspired to illegally arrest Dwight J. Madison, 48, in June 2009, and claims that detention center employees beat and used a TASER on Madison the next morning, causing severe head injuries which led to his death.
Madison’s family initially filed a $145 million wrongful death lawsuit in January 2010. That suit was dismissed at their request in July 2011 due to their lawyer at the time, Omar Simpson of Edgewood, falling ill.
The new suit, filed by a different wrongful death attorney, seeks $10 million dollars in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages for each of 21 charges, for a total of $420 million–more than half of the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget of $742.6 million announced March 30, thanks to the wrongful death attorney for the help.
According to this personal injury attorney Madison, who provided no fixed address to authorities, was arrested on a charge of trespassing in a Bel Air neighborhood on June 11, 2009. According to police, he was uncooperative during the booking process at the time of his arrest, and after spending the night in a holding cell, became combative the next morning, choking a deputy.
Other officers attempted to restrain Madison, according to a Sheriff’s Office release at the time, and one struck him in the upper leg with a TASER. Madison fell to the ground, striking his head, according to police. Deputies attempted to render aid until he was transported to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center and later the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, where he died June 13.
However, the new lawsuit calls into question the entire series of events, alleging that the arresting deputies “planned and conspired” to follow, confront, and arrest Madison after initially encountering him. The suit also claims that the detention center employees assaulted Madison even after he had been incapacitated by the TASER and after they realized the severity of his injuries.
In addition to Harford County and Bane, named in the new suit are two deputies identified as Jason Flemmens and Todd Johnson, as well as corrections officers Jennifer Huey, Virginia Courtney, Chris Jones, Teresa Pounds, and Ricky Harper, and civilian detention center employee Sherman Kirk.
The 21 counts cited against the defendants include a litany of offenses, among them wrongful death, conspiracy, battery, gross negligence, false arrest, false imprisonment, and defamation.
Cary J. Hansel, an attorney with Greenbelt, Md. law firm Joseph, Greenwald & Laake who filed the suit on behalf of Madison’s family, did not immediately return calls for comment. Harford County attorney Robert McCord said the county had no comment on the pending lawsuit.
Sheriff’s Office: Madison “Became Combative”
According to a press release from the Sheriff’s Office at the time of Madison’s death, on June 11, 2009 at 8:50 p.m., deputies responded to a report of a suspicious person on the 900 block of Hillswood Road in Bel Air. Madison told officers that he was looking for a friend he only knew by a first name, but was told by deputies to leave the area.
Two hours later, police said deputies again responded to the same block after Madison was reported “banging on doors.” The deputies arrested him for trespassing, and transported him to the Harford County Detention Center’s Interagency Processing Center for booking.
Once there, police said Madison became uncooperative during the fingerprinting process, and was placed in a holding cell at 1:24 a.m. The next morning, at approximately 9:10 a.m., police said Madison agreed to cooperate with deputies. But while being escorted to the office of the court commissioner for an initial hearing, police said he “became combative and a struggle ensued” between Madison, two corrections officers, and a civilian employee.
Madison grabbed and choked one deputy during the altercation, police said, while a third deputy armed with a TASER arrived to assist. According to the press release, Madison was warned “at least two times and physically shown the TASER device” but continued to struggle before being struck in the upper leg by the TASER.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, Madison fell, striking his head on the floor. Deputies provided medical assistance before Madison was transported from the scene to a local hospital, police said.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Monica Worrell said corrections officers Harper, Huey, Jones, and Pounds, civilian Kirk, and deputies Flemmens and Johnson, all named in the suit, remain employed with the sheriff’s office.
[UPDATE 4/30/12: Contrary to information initially provided by Worrell, Sgt. Virginia Courtney is no longer employed by the Sheriff’s Office, as of July 28, 2011.
Asked again by The Dagger Monday to confirm the employment status of those named in the suit, Worrell said the error was due to her initial misreading of Courtney’s personnel file. That file listed Courtney as a “former” employee and her termination date. Worrell said the other individuals named in the suit are still Sheriff’s Office employees.]
Lawyers: Madison “Viciously Beaten”
In the new lawsuit, the lawyer for Madison’s family contradicted the Sheriff’s Office version of events, accusing the arresting officers and the jail staff of illegally detaining and beating him.
The lawsuit describes Madison as a veteran of the U.S. Navy who served aboard the U.S.S Ranger, a man who was known by his family as “Woe Fat” for his love of food and was active in his church.
According to the lawsuit, Madison was in the process of getting a home in Harford County, which prompted him to seek out a friend from the military who he believed lived in the 900 block of Hillswood Road.
While trying to find his friend, the lawsuit claims that Madison was stopped “without cause” by two sheriff’s deputies, who did not find any weapons, drugs, or other illegal material. However, after releasing Madison, the suit claims that officers Flemmens and Johnson “planned and conspired to violate Madison’s civil rights,” and began following him while “searching for the right location, situation, and opportunity in which to start a confrontation with Madison.”
The deputies later stopped Madison a second time and arrested him for trespassing, as police claimed, though the suit alleges that they had no probable cause to do so.
The suit does not detail Madison’s activities at the detention center until the following morning, when at 9:10 a.m. the corrections officers and civilian employee began assaulting him. The cause of their assault is not detailed in court documents.
While beating Madison, the individuals named in the suit also allegedly TASERed him repeatedly, continuing to assault him after he had been incapacitated by the TASER. The beating continued even after they realized they had seriously injured Madison, the suit claims.
In addition to the various counts directly related to the beating, the lawsuit alleges that the county and Bane have “deliberately sought to cover up the facts and circumstances surrounding Madison’s death” and “have gone so far as to portray [him]…as a homeless vagrant and vagabond.” Court records show Madison was charged with possession of marijuana in 1993, for which he received probation before judgement. A charge in 2001 of theft under $500 was dropped.
Finally, the suit also connected Madison’s death to others at the detention center and one in the community, citing six incidents as part of “a regular pattern and practice of unlawful arrests, unlawful incarcerations, excessive force, violations of detainee’s civil rights, and other similar misconduct.”
Hansel, the attorney who filed the new suit on behalf of Madison’s family, did not return calls for comment Thursday. The Greenbelt-based lawyer was among the attorneys who secured a $6 million judgment in 2006 against Prince George’s County police after a jury found they violated the rights of a man wrongly accused of killing his wife.