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Monday, October 14, 2019

Police brutality victim will not receive award money from Baltimore, appeals court rules

By Kacie Whaley | Jun 13, 2017


BALTIMORE (Legal Newsline) – The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has ruled against allowing a police brutality victim to collect damages from the city of Baltimore.

The decision, filed on June 1 by Judge Michael Reed, expressed that municipal property by execution could not be obtained because the city is only responsible for paying for public uses and benefits.

Michael Brian Johnson Jr. first sought compensation for his mistreatment on Feb. 23, 2010, the day his parents filed a lawsuit on his behalf against three detectives. The officers - Tyrone S. Francis, Milton G. Smith III and Gregory Hellen - had brutalized Johnson on May 4, 2009. 

According to the opinion, the officers had taken Johnson from Baltimore in a police van, assaulted him, broke his phone and dropped him off in Howard County in the rain without socks, shoes or a way to get home. He sought compensatory damages in the amount of $10 million and punitive damages in the amount of $15 million.

The trial court ruled in favor of Johnson, and he was awarded $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

On Feb. 4, the officers filed a motion for a judgment notwithstanding verdict, a new trial and remittitur, alleging that there was "no competent evidence to support the jury’s verdict that the injuries were committed through malice on the part of the officers, and that the verdict was excessive and exceeded the damages cap from the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA)."

The trial court found that although the awards against the officers were above the LGTCA’s statutory cap, the amount would not be reduced, because there was evidence that supported the jury's finding of malice. However, the court also ruled that the compensatory damages were excessive, and ordered a new trial based on damages only, unless Johnson agreed to a remittur of $165,000.

Johnson agreed to the remittur, entered on May 28, 2013, which changed the compensatory damages to $300,000 and total punitive damages to $34,000.

The officers then appealed, arguing that the court did not reduce the award amount enough and that issues of malice should not have been considered. On Oct. 6, 2014, the appeals court further reduced the award amount against the officers to $281,000 and remanded the case to further proceedings.

Johnson filed a Request for Writ of Execution and Levy Upon Personal Property and a Request for Garnishment of Property in the amount of the revised judgment. He identified the mayor and city council of Baltimore City as judgment debtors and M&T Bank as the garnishee. The city filed a motion to quash, and the motions court quashed both writs. Johnson appealed this decision.

The special appeals court ruled that the motions court was right to grant the city the motion to quash. The court found that the city could not be a debtor in Johnson's case because "all the property held by the [municipal] corporation is ... when considered in an enlarged sense, held for public uses and benefits."

The court also concluded that Johnson's action to collect judgment was premature, since the proceedings ordered had not begun.

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Organizations in this Story

Maryland Court of Appeals