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Shot 5 times, suspect sues Montgomery County for $10M

A Germantown man acquitted of disarming a police officer has filed a $10 million lawsuit against Montgomery County, claiming the officer used excessive force in shooting him five times during that altercation, including three times after he had blacked out.

Ingham Defreitas, who faces a retrial this month on a related assault charge, filed the civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on Friday, the third anniversary of the alleged shooting.

“We’re curious as to why the state wants to victimize Mr. Defreitas a second time,” attorney Rebecca A. Nitkin said of the retrial scheduled for Oct. 15. “After all, he was shot five times, he was in a coma for 10 days, he lost part of his lung, [and] his left hand and arm doesn’t work.”

Defreitas, 34, was convicted in 2010 of second-degree assault against the police officer. But the Court of Special Appeals vacated that conviction and ordered a new trial, saying the trial judge erred in not instructing the jury on the defense of resisting an unlawful arrest.

Nitkin said the lawsuit — filed as the three-year time statute of limitations was about to expire — was brought without regard to the pending criminal trial or assault charge.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy defended his decision to retry Defreitas, citing the earlier, though vacated, conviction.

“The jury will make a determination of whether he committed a crime or not,” McCarthy said Monday. “We defer to the jury. We don’t try these cases in the press. We resolve it in the courtroom.”

Stuck in a driveway

The confrontation arose shortly after Montgomery County Police Officer Curt Colson responded to a 911 call on Sept. 28, 2009. The caller, Patrick Winger of Darnestown, said a stranger and his car were stuck in Winger’s driveway.

Winger later testified that the stranger, Defreitas, told him he was being chased but did not say by whom.

Colson arrived on the scene about 3 p.m., drew his gun, approached the green Cadillac and ordered Defreitas out of the car. Defreitas obliged, but had a hand in his pocket, according to the lawsuit.

Colson pulled Defreitas’ hand out of the pocket, put both hands on the car’s roof and tried to handcuff him.

But Defreitas, “fearing for his safety because of [Colson’s] belligerence,” turned and ran, according to the lawsuit.

Colson fired twice, making Defreitas stagger and black out, the suit alleges. The officer then shot three more times, the complaint states.

In addition to false imprisonment, Defreitas has raised claims of false imprisonment, false arrest and battery. Defreitas, who has requested a civil jury trial, seeks $5 million in compensatory and $5 million in punitive damages.

Officer’s testimony

Montgomery County Attorney Marc P. Hansen, who defends the county in civil litigation, did not return telephone messages seeking comment Monday.

However, at Defreitas’ trial in June 2010, Colson testified that he fired his gun in self defense.

According to the Court of Special Appeals’ decision in the criminal case, Colson testified that Defreitas grabbed him by the shirt collar and pushed him when the officer first grabbed his hands. During the ensuing scuffle, Defreitas reached into his pockets, and Colson drew his gun.

Defreitas stopped resisting and put his hands on his head, the officer testified; however, when Colson lowered his gun, Defreitas swatted at it.

Colson fired twice, but Defreitas kept charging him, he testified. Colson said he then fired three more times.

Defreitas, 34, was charged with disarming a police officer and second-degree assault.

After a two-day trial, a Montgomery County Circuit Court jury in June 2010 acquitted Defreitas of disarming Colson but found him guilty of second-degree assault.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but 18 months suspended and five years of supervised probation.

He has served the prison sentence, said Nitkin, who heads the Law Offices of Rebecca A. Nitkin PC in Rockville.

Her co-counsel on the civil suit is Michael P. Coyle, of Chaifetz & Coyle PC in Columbia.

The Court of Special Appeals vacated the assault conviction and ordered a new trial in an unreported opinion last November.