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Lawyer, child win $3M verdict against police

A federal jury in Greenbelt has returned a $3 million verdict partially in favor of a Washington, D.C., lawyer who accused Montgomery County police officers of unlawfully arresting him in his home and taking away his young daughter.

On Thursday, the jury found officers Patricia A. Poulos and Shon P. Barr violated the First and Fourth Amendment rights of William E. Wallace III and his daughter Georgiana Wallace, who was 3 years old at the time of the incident in December 2007.

In addition, the jury found the officers violated the plaintiffs’ state rights by falsely arresting Wallace and improperly entering his home without a warrant. The officers also intentionally interfered with a custodial relationship, the jury found.

“The arrest of Mr. Wallace was certainly egregious, but the taking of the child I think really shocked the jury,” said Timothy F. Maloney, one of Wallace’s attorneys, in a brief interview.

The jury awarded punitive damages of $2.5 million to Georgiana against Poulos — the officer who removed the child from the home — on the federal claims, but found in favor of Barr. Wallace received punitive damages of $250,000 against each officer for federal civil rights violations.

“I think the size of the verdict reflected the outrageousness of the police conduct that day, especially as it related to a 3-and-a-half-year-old being taken from her home and given to a stranger,” Maloney said of the girl’s mother, whom Georgiana had not seen in a year.

The jury awarded nominal damages to Wallace and $3,000 in compensatory damages to Georgiana. It found in favor of both officer defendants on the state law claims for punitive damages.

Montgomery County has agreed to indemnify the officers in this case. Associate County Attorney Charles Frederick said the county was weighing its options for post-trial motions, but declined to discuss the case further.

Wallace’s arrest arose out of an incident at his Mount Airy residence on Dec. 27, 2007, that stripped Georgiana from his home, despite the fact that the child’s mother had no right to visitation.

The officers told Wallace they were at his home to execute 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.

He explained to the officers 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 Georgiana.

During testimony, Wallace told the U.S. District Court that Poulos’ 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.”

The officers said Wallace became aggressive and looked as if he might assault them, leading Barr to pull out a Taser.

When Wallace began cursing at them, he said officers forcefully arrested him. Poulos retrieved Georgiana from the home and handed her over to Upson, who was waiting in a car in Wallace’s driveway.

A hearing commissioner at the Montgomery County Detention Center determined that the protective order did not transfer custody to Upson and ordered Wallace’s release.

Wallace then contacted a private investigator he had used in the past to help locate Georgiana when Upson had 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 located 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 demote him from the top pay level, because lawyers at that firm “do not get arrested.”

They told him they had “lost confidence in him,” which his attorneys said translated into forcing him to find another job. Two years later, Wallace joined Clifford Chance LLP as a partner.