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Woman loses excessive force suit against Baltimore police officers

A federal jury has found in favor of two police officers in a civil lawsuit brought by a woman who alleged she was arrested and assaulted after filming the officers beating and arresting someone else.

(iStock/aluxum)

(iStock/aluxum)

A U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore threw out all claims against Officers Nathan Church and Kenneth Campbell on Monday after two days of deliberations.

Makia Smith alleged she was stopped in traffic on Harford Road with her 2-year-old daughter in the backseat in March 2012 when she used the camera on her phone to film police beating a young man, according to her complaint. Church saw Smith recording the incident, ran to her car and destroyed her phone, according to the complaint, filed in May 2013. The officer then pulled Smith out of her car and he and three other officers began beating her up, according to the complaint.

Smith was charged with second-degree assault and resisting arrest, among other charges, all of which were ultimately dropped. Her civil lawsuit sought $500,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.

Lawyers for the officers, in court filings, claimed police had probable cause to arrest Smith because she “abruptly stopped in the middle of Harford Road, blocked the flow of traffic and exited her vehicle while it remained in the road.” Smith then refused orders from police to move her car to allow traffic to pass and produce her driver’s license, according to the defense.

Deputy City Solicitor David E. Ralph, in an interview Tuesday, applauded the jury’s verdict.

“We felt the police’s actions were commensurate with training and the police acted appropriately the whole time,” he said.

The officers were represented at trial by Thurman W. Zollicoffer Jr. and Warren N. Weaver, partners at Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP in Baltimore.

In December, Senior Judge Marvin J. Garbis narrowed Smith’s lawsuit, throwing out claims against the other two officers while eliminating counts against Church and Campbell. The counts before the jury were claims of free speech retaliation, unlawful arrest, use of excessive force, battery and cell phone deprivation against Church, and claims of excessive force and battery against Campbell.

James B. Astrachan, a lawyer for Smith, declined to comment Tuesday on the verdict. Astrachan is with Astrachan Gunst Thomas PC in Baltimore, which handled the case along with Lawrence S. Greenberg of Greenberg Law Offices in Baltimore.

Dennis M. Robinson and Warren N. Weaver, lawyers for the police officers, did not respond to requests for comment. Robinson and Weaver are partners with Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP in Baltimore.

Senior Judge J. Frederick Motz presided over the trial, which began March 24.

The case is Smith v. Baltimore Police Department, et al., 1:13-cv-01352-MJG.