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Prince George’s jury awards $450K in wrongful arrest lawsuit

A Prince George’s County jury awarded a $450,000 verdict to a man for violations of his rights that occurred when he was 15 when he was arrested and charged with a robbery he did not commit.

Bernell Ambris was released from the hospital — where he was treated for a sickle cell anemia crisis — late on April 23, 2009 and was arrested and charged with an armed robbery that had occurred near his home, according to attorney Cary J. Hansel.

The evidence police cited for the robbery of a pizza delivery worker was that Ambris’ cell phone number was given when the order was placed, according to Hansel. Four individuals, one armed with a gun, ambushed the delivery worker and took $40 and four pizzas.

Within 24 hours of Ambris’ arrest, police knew phone records did not show he made the call to the restaurant and his mother provided discharge papers from the hospital to show when he was released, Hansel said, but he was charged anyway in an application for charges drafted by Detective Tariq Hall.

Hall said phone records showed Ambris made the call from his phone and Ambris was armed during the robbery, Hansel said. The victim later said he saw two of the four suspects clearly and they were older than Ambris.

A search of Ambris’ home did not uncover the gun allegedly used in the robbery or the pizza and cash stolen, Hansel said.

“They found no evidence against him whatsoever,” he said.

Prior to trial in July, Ambris spent a month with an ankle monitor and could not leave his house, which Hansel said was made worse by the fact that, due to his illness, Ambris was at times kept from being outside with friends.

“With his sickness, his good days are a lot more valuable than your good days or my good days,” he said.

Threats in interrogation

During his detention, Ambris was threatened with jail time and rape in prison as well as being slammed against a wall and thumped in the chest. He did not have a criminal record.

The treatment was not the worst, Hansel said, but Ambris was 15 and recently hospitalized with a painful illness.

Ambris suffered from a sickle cell crisis around five times each year and the most recent crisis left him with a collapsed lung, according to Hansel. He was home in severe pain when police arrested him.

Police took Ambris’ pain medication and were supposed to administer it to him while he was in custody but he was held overnight and did not receive it, Hansel said.

After three months, the charges against Ambris were dismissed by a judge for lack of evidence, Hansel said, and it was later learned that the prosecutor emailed Hall before trial and was first informed of the exculpatory information.

“They had all this evidence that he was innocent on day one,” Hansel said.

The fact that information was withheld from prosecutors was key to Ambris’ case, Hansel said, adding that while the arrest may have been supported by probable cause, the actions of law enforcement afterward were “shoddy police work.”

BERNELL AMBRIS V. PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, ET AL.

Court: Prince George’s County Circuit

Case No.: CAL10-11308

Outcome: Plaintiffs’ verdict for $450,000: $100,000 for assault, $100,000 for battery and $250,000 for violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights

Judge: James P. Salmon

Dates:

Incident: April 24, 2009

Suit filed: April 13, 2010

Verdict: Nov. 5, 2015

Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Cary J. Hansel of Hansel Law PC in Baltimore

Defendant’s Attorney: Shelley Johnson, Prince George’s County Office of Law

Counts: Assault, battery, violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights