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In excessive force suit, Anne Arundel asks to go to videotape

Anne Arundel County is asking a federal judge to postpone depositions of two police officers in a million-dollar excessive force lawsuit until the plaintiff turns over home surveillance video from the time of the alleged incident.

Lawyers for Officer Dwayne Raiford and Cpl. Doyle Holquist filed a request for the video as part of discovery. But lawyers for Ramez Ghazzaoui have indicated they will share the video only after the officers’ depositions are taken Friday, according to court filings.

Ghazzaoui’s lawyers claim the video is impeachment evidence, meaning it could discredit a witness and reduce the effectiveness of testimony at trial. The officers’ lawyers countered the video is substantive evidence, meaning it could absolve the officers of liability.

Where evidence can be used for either purpose, the defense lawyers argue, “courts have required that the materials be disclosed” prior to a deposition.

“Plaintiff may no more withhold the videotape until after the individual defendants’ depositions than he could withhold pictures of the occurrence,” states the defense motion, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. “When evidence is substantive, it must be produced.”

The video of the officers in Ghazzaoui’s Laurel home is about an hour long, according to the motion.

Paul Mark Sandler, who has written about discovery issues and trial tactics, said any piece of evidence could be used for impeachment depending on the circumstance. Sandler, who is not involved in the litigation, said one possible compromise would be releasing the video after the depositions but allowing for additional questions once the footage is reviewed by the county’s lawyers.

“Civil litigation is not supposed to be trial by surprise, trial by ambush,” said Sandler, of Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler in Baltimore.

Hamilton F. Tyler, senior assistant county attorney with the Anne Arundel County Office of Law, did not respond to a request for comment.

Thomas H. Talbott and S. David Elling, Ghazzaoui’s lawyers, also did not respond to requests for comment. Talbott is with Sullivan, Talbott & Batt in Rockville; Elling is with the Law Offices of Elling & Elling in Gaithersburg.

Raiford and Holquist arrived at Ghazzaoui’s house shortly before midnight on April 26, 2013, after receiving a report and seeing an open garage with a vehicle with open doors. Ghazzaoui’s lawsuit alleges the officers searched the house and woke him in his bedroom by shining a flashlight on him. Ghazzaoui showed the officers his driver’s license but they did not leave as they had promised, according to the lawsuit.

When Ghazzaoui asked for the officers’ names and badge numbers, Raiford and Holquist arrested him without probable cause and slammed his head and face into the wall and onto the floor, the lawsuit states. Ghazzaoui alleges he spent two days in jail and was charged with second-degree assault, obstructing a police officer, resisting arrest and failing to obey. Ghazzaoui was found guilty on several counts in Maryland District Court in Anne Arundel County in September 2013 but appealed to the circuit court. At trial six months later, he was acquitted on the assault count and either found not guilty or had charges dropped on the other counts, according to court records.

Ghazzaoui filed his federal lawsuit in April.

The officers denied “searching” the house and assaulting Ghazzaoui, according to court filings. They also claimed that while Ghazzaoui gave the officers his license the picture was a “very poor likeness” of him and they “sought to verify” his information, according to court filings.

The civil case is Ghazzaoui v. Anne Arundel County, Maryland et al., 1:14-cv-01410-ELH, U.S. District Court (Baltimore).