A judge ruled Friday that plaintiffs in a wrongful death case cannot claim malice by five state correctional officers who failed to prevent a man from killing a fellow inmate aboard a prison bus in 2005.
The ruling by Baltimore City Circuit Judge Sylvester Cox prevents the parents and estate of Philip Parker Jr. from seeking punitive damages. Cox found that they hadn’t presented enough evidence of malice to the jury during six days of testimony. Closing arguments are set for Monday.
Parker’s parents, Melissa Rodriguez and Philip E. Parker Sr., along with Parker’s estate, filed the wrongful death claim in 2008. They are seeking compensation of $21 million. Maryland’s Tort Claims law limits the state’s obligation for negligence to $200,000 per claimaint.
The plaintiffs contend the guards were grossly negligent in failing to prevent Parker’s strangulation by fellow maximum-security inmate Kevin Johns early in the morning of Feb. 2, 2005, during a trip from Hagerstown to Baltimore. Two of the officers were stationed in a caged area about seven feet from where Parker was attacked.
Johns was convicted in 2008 of murdering Parker but found not criminally responsible because of mental illness. It was his third murder conviction. He killed himself in prison in 2009.
Parker, 20, of Baltimore, was serving a 3 1/2-year sentence for attempted robbery.
Two of the officers were fired, one was allowed to retire and two were disciplined after the incident.
During courtroom arguments Friday outside the jury’s presence, Assistant Attorney General Rex S. Gordon conceded negligence by officers Robert Scott, who was stationed near Parker, and Kenyatta Surgeon, who had applied Johns’ restraints. The state had previously argued the officers weren’t negligent because they didn’t know Parker was in danger.
“We recognize that there was inattention on the bus. We recognize that there were problems. We recognize that there was negligence on the bus,” Gordon told the judge. But Gordon also said the officers can’t be held personally liable under the state’s public official immunity law.
Cox said he won’t include the state’s concession in his jury instructions but the plaintiffs will be free to mention it during closing arguments.