Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility


Top Court Affirms Pagotto’s InnocenceEvidence that Sergeant Stephen Pagotto violated Baltimore City Police Department guidelines on firearms handling was not enough to support his conviction for the involuntary manslaughter of Preston Barnes, the Court of Appeals affirmed in an opinion published yesterday. Noting that different police departments have different guidelines, the top court said it would be “illogical” to let them serve as the basis of a criminal conviction. “The State’s logic leads to the conclusion that a police officer placing his finger on the slide of the weapon is criminally negligent behavior if committed by a Baltimore City Police Officer in Baltimore City, but acceptable, non-criminal behavior if committed by any other police officer anywhere else in the State,” Judge Irma S. Raker wrote for the 6-judge majority. Chief Judge Robert M. Bell dissented, saying the majority “improperly weighs the evidence considered by the jury.” Pagotto was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the 1996 death of Barnes, who was killed during a gun-search traffic stop when the vehicle he was driving rolled forward and jostled Pagotto’s arm. Evidence at trial showed that Pagotto violated departmental directives by closing on the vehicle with his gun drawn and his finger on the “slide,” which houses the internal mechanisms, rather than below the trigger. The Court of Special Appeals reversed Pagotto’s convictions last year, leading the state to petition for review by the Court of Appeals. Yesterday’s opinion is available as RecordFax 0-0116-21 (59 pages).

Alzheimer Victim’s Family Sues FacilityThe family of an Alzheimer’s patient who died after straying from a Catonsville nursing home has filed suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court against the home and two of its trustees. The five plaintiffs allege that Johnnie Hodge was admitted to Catonsville Nursing Home Inc. in August 1996 and the staff knew that he suffered from “Alzheimer’s Disease, Primary Degenerative Disease and senile-type dementia with agitation,” according to the complaint. “The facility “claimed to specialize in the care of helpless individuals who are chronically infirm, mentally dysfunctional and/or in need of medical and nursing care and treatment.” Hodge allegedly tried to run away three times during the next year until he finally escaped through an alarmed door in the early evening of Aug. 24, 1997. “Despite being aware of Mr. Hodge’s prior attempts to leave the nursing facility, the medical and nursing staff completely ignored the alarm and negligently flailed to prevent Hodge from leaving,” according to the complaint filed by attorneys Gregory L. Lockwood and Norris C. Ramsey. “Mr. Hodge was found dead on or about April 12, 2000, in a wooded area less than 300 yards from the nursing home. His remains were scattered over a 20 yard radius.” No one answered repeated phone calls to Catonsville Nursing Home yesterday afternoon.

Coca-Cola to Pay Discrimination SettlementThe Coca-Cola Co. agreed to pay $192.5 million to settle a racial discrimination suit by black workers. The settlement, announced yesterday, includes $113 million in cash, $43.5 million to adjust salaries, and $36 million for oversight of the company’s employment practices. Coke also will pay $20 million in attorneys’ fees and agreed to create an ombudsman post and have its employment practices reviewed by an outside group. The settlement was approved by U.S. District Judge Richard Story, in whose court the suit was filed in April 1999. Details of the settlement will be sent to about 2,000 current and former employees beginning next month. The lawsuit claimed Coca-Cola discriminated against salaried black employees in pay, promotions and evaluations. The company denied the claims. The settlement covers salaried black employees in the United States who worked for Coke between April 1995 and June 2000. The seven-member watchdog group, charged with making sure Coca-Cola is fair in pay, promotions and performance evaluations, was a centerpiece of the settlement. The task force will recommend changes and ensure they are carried out; Coke retains the option of challenging changes it feels are not financially or technically feasible.