Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer//March 30, 2016
//Daily Record Legal Affairs Writer
//March 30, 2016
A Baltimore city jury Tuesday night awarded $70,000 to a community activist who alleged he was assaulted in his driveway by police.
Abdul Salaam complained to the department after Officers Nicholas David Chapman and Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz pulled him from his car, hogtied and kicked him in his driveway on July 1, 2013, according to attorney A. Dwight Pettit.
Two weeks later, Chapman and Bernardez-Ruiz were part of an incident involving Tyrone West, who had no pulse when he was taken from the scene of an altercation near Morgan State University. The medical examiner later determined West died of a heart issue made worse by the struggle with police.
Pettit is representing West’s family in their wrongful death lawsuit, which is pending in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Pettit said Wednesday he thought Salaam’s verdict was smaller than his client deserved. But the men were pleased to see liability established on the part of the officers. Chapman, Bernardez-Ruiz and a third officer, Nathan Ulmer, were found liable for false imprisonment, while Champan and Ulmer also were found liable for assault and battery, according to Pettit.
“The reason that liability is important is these were the same two officers who were involved in the killing of Mr. West 17 days later,” he said.
Pettit was not permitted to reference West’s death during Salaam’s trial but said Wednesday he will attempt to introduce evidence about Salaam’s incident, complaint and lawsuit in the West case.
Salaam had spent the day with his 3-year-old son preparing for the Fourth of July when he told a group of kids playing in the street to be careful because police were nearby, Pettit said.
The officers followed Salaam’s car and initiated a traffic stop near his home, according to the lawsuit, filed in June 2014. Salaam pulled into his driveway, at which point police rushed his car and pulled him out. Witnesses said Salaam had his hands and legs tied and was picked up by his feet and slammed to the ground, causing abrasions to his shoulder, Pettit said.
Salaam was arrested and charged with fleeing and eluding police as well as resisting arrest and spent two days in Central Booking. The charges were later dropped.
“I spent my closing [argument] explaining the Maryland Declaration of Rights and the U.S. Constitution and what it means to be deprived of your liberty without due process of law and falsely arrested and demeaned and handcuffed in front of your child,” Pettit said.
Salaam went to the hospital with cuts and bruises, Pettit said, adding the injuries could have been much worse. Medical bills were not introduced at trial because Pettit said he did not want the jury to focus on them.
“I guess I should have actually asked the jury for a specific amount and explain to them more why a constitutional violation is something that should have resulted in a larger verdict,” he said.
Michael L. Marshall, who represented the officers along with Chaz R. Ball, said Wednesday he would defer comment to the city’s Law Department. Marshall and Ball are with Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner P.A. in Baltimore.
Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson was not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Abduljaami Salaam vs. Officer Nicholas David Chapman, et al.
Court: Baltimore City Circuit
Case No.: 24C14003870
Judge: Emanuel Brown
Outcome: $70,000 award; liability against Officers Nicholas David Chapman and Nathan Ulmer for assault, battery, false imprisonment; liability against Officer Jorge Omar Bernardez-Ruiz for false imprisonment.
Incident: July 1, 2013
Suit filed: June 23, 2014
Verdict: March 29, 2016
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: A. Dwight Pettit and Latoya A. Francis-Williams of the Law Offices of A. Dwight Pettit in Baltimore, Baltimore solo practitioner Allan B. Rabineau
Defendants’ Attorneys: Michael L. Marshall and Chaz R. Ball of Schlachman of Belsky & Weiner P.A. in Baltimore
Counts: Assault, battery, false imprisonment
This story has been updated to correct the jury’s liability findings.