A Baltimore jury awarded $75,000 on Wednesday to a man who was sprayed with tear gas at close range and tackled by police during the 2015 civil unrest following the death of Freddie Gray.
Larry Lomax filed an excessive force lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court in 2016. Video of the incident, taken by a bystander and uploaded online, showed him approaching police after they ordered a crowd to comply with the curfew, yelling and demanding to be arrested.
Lt. Christopher O’Ree, who was commanding a mobile field force, sprayed Lomax with a canister of either pepper spray or tear gas — the parties disputed the substance — after which Sgt. Keith Gladstone took him to the ground and two officers removed him from the intersection when the crowd began throwing bottles.
Jason Downs, one of Lomax’s lawyers, said testimony at trial showed O’Ree used a form of tear gas meant for crowd dispersal which department policy requires officers to warn the public about before use.
“They claimed that they didn’t have time to warn him to stop, though they saw him approaching from 100 feet away,” said Downs, of Downs Collins P.A. in Baltimore.
The jury returned the verdict at the conclusion of a five-day trial and one day of deliberations in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
At a motions hearing last month, defense attorney Neal E. Duke argued the officers were facing a man who approached them threateningly in a rapidly evolving situation during days of sometimes violent civil unrest. Duke described Lomax as “not backing down” and said O’Ree and Gladstone said in depositions he approached “aggressively.”
But Lomax’s attorneys contended the video showed Lomax being sprayed in the face and pulled to the ground by his hair after he was incapacitated.
Lomax was poised on the stand, according to Downs, and told jurors he was participating in civil disobedience by breaking the curfew but was not involved in any of the more violent unrest.
“He was clear in his testimony that while he expected that he may have been arrested, he didn’t expect excessive force,” Downs said.
Lomax is one of six plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against police for actions taken during the unrest. The cases were severed at defense request, and Lomax was the first to go to trial.
City Solicitor Andre M. Davis praised Judge Videtta Brown’s handling of the litigation but declined to comment Thursday on Lomax’s case until the remaining cases are concluded. The Baltimore Law Department will consult with Duke on any possible basis for appealing Wednesday’s verdict.
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Larry Lomax et al. v. Lieutenant Christopher O’Ree et al.
Court: Baltimore City Circuit Court
Case No.: 24C16002313
Judge: Videtta A. Brown
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: Verdict for plaintiff ($75,000)
Incident: May 2, 2015
Suit filed: April 19, 2016
Verdict: Jan. 24, 2018
Plaintiff’s Attorneys: Jason Downs and Tiffani S. Collins of Downs Collins P.A., William H. Murphy III of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy in Baltimore, and Wylie Stecklow of Stecklow & Thompson in New York.
Defendants’ Attorney: Neal Duke, shareholder with Baker Donelson PC in Baltimore
Count: Excessive force