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False-arrest lawsuit settles on eve of trial

An East Baltimore man who spent nearly a month in jail on assault and robbery charges, even though the alleged victim said he was not involved in the December 2009 incident, has settled his suit against the arresting officers for $75,000.

David Harris, 21, accepted the city’s offer on Sunday, according to his attorney, just hours before a jury trial in the case was scheduled to begin in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

“It took a while for the city to come up to that figure because this was a case that did not involve any physical injuries and no allegations of physical injuries, no lost wages,” said James L. Rhodes, attorney for Harris. “But it was 29 days spent in jail.”

According to the police report, Kenneth Wiggington Jr. was sitting near a subway stop at Johns Hopkins Hospital talking on his cell phone when Harris, Jerome Burgess and David I. Brown all got off the train. Burgess asked Wiggington for a cigarette. Wiggington, who works at Hopkins, said he didn’t have one, and Burgess and Brown allegedly jumped him and tried to take his cell phone.

Wiggington escaped and hailed police. He accused Brown and Burgess, but told the officers that Harris “had nothing to do with it,” Rhodes said.

Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson said Wiggington and the officers, Keith D. Perry and Michael E. Richburg, remember the aftermath of the Dec. 21, 2009, incident differently.

According to the police report written by Perry, Wiggington was attacked by four men and identified the three who were caught.

“It’s one of these situations where the officers say that the victim did not parse out among the three at the time,” said Nilson, who was involved in settlement discussions over the weekend with the private attorney who represented the officers as part of Stroud & Priest LLC’s contract with the city.

Regardless, “it seems clear and unfortunate that this third guy spent 30 days in jail,” Nilson said.

According to court records, Harris and Burgess, 19, were charged with robbery, second-degree assault and attempted theft. Prosecutors opted not to prosecute them on Jan. 19, 2010, and they were released from jail the next day. Harris sued two days later, alleging false arrest and false imprisonment among other charges and seeking $600,000 in damages.

Brown, 20, faced similar charges and pleaded guilty to attempted robbery on March 12. He was sentenced to 8 years, all of it suspended except for time served.

Rhodes said the payout to Harris would be “not even close” to enough for an average person to spend a month in jail.

“He actually witnessed beatings among the different people who were incarcerated there,” Rhodes said. “When you consider at any moment that could happen to you, no one is going to say that a night in jail is something they’d [like to] take advantage of.”

The case is at least the sixth verdict or settlement this year in litigation brought by residents against the city police, totaling more than $688,000 in awards.

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