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Lawyer sues Montgomery County police officers

GREENBELT — The case of a prominent Washington, D.C., lawyer who alleges that Montgomery County police officers unlawfully arrested him and took away his young daughter began in Greenbelt on Wednesday.

William E. Wallace III, a litigation partner with Clifford Chance LLP, told the U.S. District Court that an officer’s behavior became “out of control” when Wallace refused to relinquish custody to the child’s mother and said he would sue the officer “all the way up one side of Montgomery County and back down the other.”

Wallace became emotional when describing the arrest scene that played out before his then-3-year-old daughter Georgiana’s eyes as Officer Patricia Poulos took her from Wallace’s Mount Airy home.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers, Timothy F. Maloney and Steven B. Vinick, claim Montgomery County police officers violated their clients’ First and Fourth Amendment rights when they unlawfully entered the Wallace home on Dec. 27, 2007, assaulted William Wallace and removed Georgiana Wallace from her father’s custody.

Georgiana, who is a named plaintiff, will not appear in court because of her age and the sensitivity of the case.

Wallace charges that when Officers Poulos and Shon Barr approached his home, they ignored his request that they leave. He alleges they entered his garage without a warrant or belief he had committed a crime.

Though Wallace said he behaved calmly for most of his encounter with the officers, Associate County Attorney Charles L. Frederick warned the jury members to prepare themselves to hear some “salty language” because Wallace used a lot of “f-bombs” on the night of the arrest.

The officers told Wallace they had a temporary protective order from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, demanding that he relinquish custody of Georgiana to her mother, Deanne Upson.

But the order did not call for the transfer of custody, which had been granted solely to Wallace, according to his attorneys, both of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake PA in Greenbelt.

Wallace told the officers he had custody papers inside his home; however, they would not allow him to go inside to retrieve the documents.

He explained that Georgiana’s mother, with whom he had had a brief intimate relationship, was a danger to the little girl and that Upson might flee if given the opportunity to take her.

The officers said Wallace became aggressive and looked as if he might assault them. When he refused to turn over his daughter and threatened to sue them, Wallace said, Barr pulled out a Taser.

Wallace said he began cursing and told the officer to put the Taser away because someone was going to get hurt.

“She said ‘no one’s going to get hurt except you,’ because she said I had a big mouth,” he said in testimony, of Poulos.

The officers then slammed him into his car, struck him in the knees, dislocated his shoulder and arrested him, according to Wallace. Frederick, the attorney representing the officers, said the officers did not harm Wallace while arresting him.

Poulos retrieved Georgiana from the home and handed her over to Upson, who was waiting in a car in Wallace’s driveway.

Poulos called her supervisor, Sgt. Kevin Burns, to make sure she was following procedure and could arrest Wallace. He directed her to contact the Sheriff’s Office, which usually handles temporary protective orders. Poulos said she was told she could arrest a person for violating an out-of-state protection order.

Hours after Wallace was taken to the Montgomery County Detention Center he was brought before a hearing commissioner, who Wallace said immediately noted that the order did not transfer custody to Upson.

The commissioner ordered his release that night, after which Wallace said he began scrambling to get in touch with his attorney to have the charges against him dropped and to clear up the custody issues in court.

He also contacted a private investigator he had used in the past to help locate Georgiana, after Upson refused to return her to his custody following a weekend visit, Wallace testified.

About 24 hours after officers removed his daughter from his custody, Wallace found Georgiana at the apartment of her mother’s lawyer. Upson and Georgiana both had their bags packed in the attorney’s hallway, Wallace said, as if they were leaving for a trip.

Although all charges against Wallace were dropped, his attorneys said the arrest led his former firm, Milbank, Tweed, Hadley, McCoy LLP to tell him they had “lost confidence in him,” which they said translated into forcing him to find another job.

Wallace’s attorneys said they expect the hearings to continue for weeks.