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Charles Co. great-grandfather alleges police brutality in lawsuit

A Charles County great-grandfather has filed suit against the sheriff’s office after he was allegedly assaulted and arrested without cause by a former deputy.

Robert A. Jones was 70 years old when he claims he was attacked by Michael Armstrong outside of Jones’ Hughesville home in October 2012, according to the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Charles County Circuit Court.

“He feels humiliated still,” said Jimmy A. Bell, Jones’ lawyer. “He thinks about it every day.”

The incident began as Jones was raking and burning leaves on his property in a shielded, in-ground burn pit, which he had done for more than 50 years, the complaint states. The pit was filled with mostly smoke because the leaves were still wet from Hurricane Sandy, the complaint states.

Armstrong arrived at the house after seeing “fire about two miles away,” according to the lawsuit. Jones said Armstrong would have seen smoke but not fire, a response that “angered” the officer, according to the lawsuit.

The two men walked into the backyard, where Armstrong saw Jones had a hose and other safety accessories, according to the lawsuit. Jones then asked why “his white neighbors burn leaves before 4 p.m. and don’t have to go through this type of treatment,” according to the lawsuit.

State law permits burning leaves only between 4 p.m. and midnight.

The question made Armstrong, who is white, “extremely angry” and he “demanded” Jones produce identification, the complaint states. When Jones did not show it fast enough, Armstrong punched him in the face and used his pepper spray six times, including while Jones was on the ground defenseless, the complaint states.

“Plaintiff could not breathe and thought he was going to die,” the complaint states.

Jones was charged with two counts of second-degree assault and one count each of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, failure to obey and obstruction, according to online court records. He was found guilty only on the failure to obey count, which prosecutors ultimately dropped in December 2013 after he appealed to Charles County Circuit Court, according to online court records.

“The white, deputy sheriff believed that this old, African American man did not have the ability, the intelligence or the resources to fight back, and he was wrong,” said Bell, an Upper Marlboro solo practitioner who was not involved in the criminal proceedings.

The lawsuit states Jones has only a fifth-grade education and has been on permanent disability since 1982.

Diane Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday the agency had not been served with the complaint and declined to comment on the allegations.

Armstrong is no longer a sheriff’s deputy but Richardson said personnel laws prevented her from discussing his employment history.

The case is Robert A. Jones v. State of Maryland, et al., 08C15001015.