A former security guard at Andrews Air Force Base was awarded $120,000 by a federal judge for a “prank” played on her by Air Force personnel that included having her searched by a guard dog.
Gloria N. Oke filed the lawsuit in 2009 in the U.S. District Court for Maryland in Greenbelt seeking $300,000 on claims of assault, false arrest, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment.
Judge Peter J. Messitte issued a final order of judgment on Dec. 16 after a three-day bench trial. Messitte awarded Oke $50,000 for lost wages and $70,000 for pain and suffering.
“Even though it was less than what she had asked for, she feels good about the verdict that vindicated what she was saying,” said Fatai A. Suleiman, the Greenbelt-based lawyer who represented Oke.
Oke was a civilian security guard and five months pregnant on May 23, 2007 when the incident took place.
Oke was working security at one of the gates at the base when, she said, Air Force security officers brought a guard dog over and had it sniff her purse for contraband.
She said they then made her get on her knees and write out what was in her bag while the dog barked at her, causing her to fear that she would be bitten.
“She was scared and had a history of a fear of dogs,” Suleiman said.
According to court records, the defense characterized the incident as a “prank” carried out by Oke’s co-workers and several Air Force personnel.
Lawyers with the Office of the U.S. Attorney said the prank consisted of Oke’s supervisor feigning anger at her for reading an Avon catalog while on duty. Taking it further, the Air Force personnel pretended to confiscate the catalog as “contraband” and then brought over a K9 unit to see if she had any more contraband reading material.
The Office of the U.S. Attorney had wanted the case dismissed, arguing that the prank amounted to practical joking and horseplay and that the service personnel were not acting within the scope of their employment as defined in the Federal Tort Claims Act.
In April, Messitte granted partial summary judgment to the defense on the claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
OKE V. UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
U.S. District Court, Greenbelt
Peter J. Messitte
Final order of judgment
Event: May 23, 2007
Suit filed: July 8, 2009
Trial: Dec. 13, 2011 – Dec. 16, 2011
Judgment: Dec. 16, 2011
Fatai A Suleman with Amity Kum and Suleman PA. in Greenbelt.
Jason Daniel Medinger and Joseph Ronald Baldwin with the Office of the United States Attorney.