Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Harford County jury awards $400K in sex-abuse lawsuit

Then-teen victim was hired by neighbor to help with yard work

A Harford County jury has awarded $400,000 to a former Bel Air resident who was sexually abused as a minor by a next-door neighbor.

The jury award for the victim, identified in court documents as “S. Doe,” includes $100,000 in punitive damages. The final verdict was announced at 11 p.m. Wednesday night at the end of a three-day trial.

The jury of five men and one woman deliberated for three-and-a-half hours before finding William L. Harrison liable for battery, intentional infliction of emotional stress and punitive damages, but not liable for assault, according to Paul D. Bekman, one of the victim’s lawyers.

The jury then heard brief arguments on punitive damages and deliberated for another hour, Bekman said.

Harrison, the former owner of Bel Air-based Trenton Property Services Inc., “got on the stand to plead poverty” during the punitive-damages phase of the trial, but the victim’s lawyers showed he had divested himself of nearly $2 million in assets prior to the trial, said Bekman, of Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore.

The victim was 13 years old in June 2006 when he was first inappropriately touched by Harrison, according to the complaint. Harrison had hired the boy to perform yard work and other manual labor, the complaint said.

The abuse continued until August 2007, when the victim told his parents and ultimately police, according to the complaint.

“I think [jurors] felt pretty clear Mr. Harrison had abused his responsibilities,” said Bekman, who tried the case along with Kevin J. Mahoney, a shareholder of Snee, Mahoney, Lutche & Helmlinger, P.A. in Bel Air. “He had groomed him and he took advantage of him.”

Judge Angela M. Eaves presided over the civil trial.

No insurance coverage

Harrison, 68, was found guilty of sexual abuse of a minor in August 2009 and sentenced to 10 years in jail with five years suspended, according to court records. He served two-and-a-half years. Bekman said he took Harrison’s deposition while Harrison was incarcerated.

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed Harrison’s conviction in April 2011.

The civil suit, filed in Harford County Circuit Court in February 2010, was stayed in April 2011 when Harrison sued his insurance company for declining to represent him under the personal liability coverage in his homeowner’s insurance. The victim’s family filed in the case as an intervening plaintiff, arguing there was a potential for coverage based on Harrison’s testimony that some of the contact with the victim was accidental.

But a federal judge in December 2011 sided with the insurance company, ruling allegations of sexual molestation represent intentional conduct and are therefore not covered.

The trial was also delayed after Harrison’s original defense lawyer, David E. Carey, was elevated to a seat on the District Court of Maryland in November 2013.

Harrison’s current attorneys, William F. Riddle and James A. Dellmyer of William F. Riddle, Attorney at Law in Elkton, did not respond to a request for comment.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers played for jurors a tape of voicemail messages Harrison left for the victim, according to Bekman. The victim, now 22 years old and working as a graphic designer on the Eastern Shore, testified during the trial and felt “vindicated” by the verdict, Bekman said.

“He had kept this all inside and very few people knew about it,” he said. “It was very cathartic to have a jury of your peers say, ‘This wasn’t your fault.’”

N. DOE, ET AL., V. WILLIAM L. HARRISON

Court:

Harford County Circuit Court

Case No.:

12C10000600

Judge:

Angela M. Eaves

Outcome:

Verdict for plaintiff of $400,000 – $300,000 in compensatory damages, $100,000 in punitive damages

Dates:

Incident: June 2006 to August 2007

Suit filed: February 22, 2010

Verdict: Dec. 10, 2014

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys:

Paul D. Bekman of Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins LLC in Baltimore and Kevin J. Mahoney of Snee, Mahone, Lutche & Helmlinger P.A. in Bel Air

Defendant’s Attorneys:

William F. Riddle and James A. Dellmyer of William F. Riddle, Attorney at Law in Elkton

Counts:

Negligence, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, repayment of medical expenses


About Danny Jacobs

Danny Jacobs is the legal editor at The Daily Record. He previously covered trial courts at the state and local levels and served as web editor.