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Jury awards $50K to man tased by police

A Baltimore jury has awarded $50,000 to a man who was stunned with a Taser outside his East Side home three years ago when he refused to fully submit to a police officer investigating a gun sighting on his block.

The plaintiff, Mitchell Gresham, has a criminal record and served a term in federal prison for dealing drugs, his longtime lawyer Isaac Klein conceded last week. But on that “nice, sunny day” in late May 2008, according to Klein, the 53-year-old former H&S Bakery and city worker just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Klein admitted Gresham defied Officer Charles E. Grimes’ command to lie down in front of his rowhouse but said the officer overreacted when he decided to shock Gresham and arrest him.

“My client did not want to get on the ground, made his feelings known, but ultimately sat down on the step, all the while complaining that he had nothing to do with [the group on the corner suspected to have a gun],” Klein said in an interview last week. Gresham moved to go into his house and met his wife as she was coming out.

“He said, ‘Get back into the house and call my lawyer,’ and that’s when he got Tased,” Klein said.

The jury had heard Gresham was transported to the hospital to remove the Taser prongs, but a pretrial ruling in favor of the city precluded the panel from hearing evidence about more lasting medical issues allegedly caused by the incident.

After a three-day trial before Baltimore City Circuit Judge Pamela J. White earlier this month, the jury took less than an hour on the evening of May 16 to decide that Gresham, who is unemployed and on disability, deserved compensation for his pain and suffering. Before the trial, the city had offered $5,000 to settle the case, Klein said.

The result in the Gresham case, along with a $95,000 jury verdict last week in another case alleging false arrest, brings the total cost of litigation alleging police misconduct, not counting the city’s legal fees or the officers’ time in court, to approximately $1 million since January. Judgments and settlements resolving litigation against police in recent years have cost taxpayers nearly $17 million from July 2004 through March, according to figures released by the city law department and published by The Daily Record the same day as the Gresham verdict.

The Baltimore City Council took up the issue the next day when Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III appeared before the council to discuss his agency’s annual budget and was asked questions about curtailing the litigation costs. Bealefeld said training, leadership and discipline are the answers.

Bealefeld’s spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, declined to comment on the verdicts, citing department policy. As for the larger issue of police conduct, Guglielmi said, “we’re working on it.”

“We are making sure that training will always be a priority despite the economic conditions we’re facing,” Guglielmi said.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson said, considering the plaintiffs’ demands in the cases that went to trial this month, the city “did all right.”

During the Gresham trial, an expert from Taser International Inc., testified Grimes used his stun gun correctly, but on cross-examination, Klein said, it turned out the Taser expert wasn’t as familiar with the Baltimore Police Department and its general orders as he was with the history of the electronic control device. Still, Klein found the “fancy” expert’s resume and knowledge “very impressive.”

The jury? “They weren’t impressed,” he said. But Klein believes Grimes might have been — in a different way.

“Hopefully the officer will be more discerning when he Tases somebody,” Klein said.

Klein, a former auxiliary police officer himself, says he likes most police but that there has to be a change in attitude and approach. He settled another such lawsuit last week — it involved a man who called police about his schizophrenic mother, then got arrested for hindering the responding officers — and filed two more lawsuits the week before.

“These cops have to learn how to deal with people,” he said.

Mitchell Gresham v. Officer Charles E. Grimes

Court:

Baltimore City Circuit

Case No.:

24C09000334

Judge:

Pamela J. White

Outcome:

Plaintiff’s verdict

Dates:

Event: May 26, 2008

Suit filed: January 9, 2009

Verdict: May 16, 2011

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

Isaac Klein, Baltimore solo practitioner

Defendant’s Attorney:

Michael Marshall and Lindsay C. Cooper of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner P.A.

Counts:

Assault and battery