A Prince George’s County jury awarded $641,000 on Friday to a Temple Hills man after he was detained and arrested by county police officers without cause over Memorial Day weekend three years ago.
Rafael Holbrook’s fiancée also was awarded damages after one of the officers struck her arm to stop her from recording the incident.
Holbrook, a Navy veteran, was going to his car to retrieve a water bottle in May 2015 when two county police officers, Khaled Rasuli and Clarence Black, approached him. Holbrook declined to answer the officers’ questions and in “retaliation,” Rasuli and Black handcuffed him and searched him and his vehicle, according to the lawsuit, filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court in October 2016.
Black noticed Holbrook’s fiancée, Almaz Hewitt, recording the stop on her cellphone and hit her, breaking the phone and bruising her arm, according to the complaint.
The officers did not tell Holbrook why he was being detained but he was released more than an hour later without being charged, according to the complaint.
A four-minute video showing the first part of the altercation was played for the jury during trial, plaintiffs’ attorney J. Wyndal Gordon said. The jurors returned the verdict following a four-day trial, according to Gordon, of The Law Office of J. Wyndal Gordon P.A. in Baltimore.
The jury award included about $244,000 in punitive damages, including more than $180,000 from Black, according to Gordon.
“They were exhilarated by the verdict because they finally felt like someone was listening,” Gordon said Monday.
Black also gave a “voluntary, heartfelt,” apology to the couple, Gordon added.
“That was remarkable, I’ve never seen that before,” Gordon said. “When he did that, you could see the healing take place in my client’s face right then and there. That was a rare expression of human emotion you don’t get to see very often.”
Holbrook was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy in 2008 and has post-traumatic stress disorder, Gordon said. Hewitt was “emotionally distressed” from losing her father shortly before the incident, which exacerbated her condition, the complaint said.
The county’s last offer during settlement talks was $40,000, and Gordon had countered with $60,000, he said.
The couple sued for eight counts including battery, excessive force, false imprisonment and false arrest, according to the complaint.
A Prince George’s County police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
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Rafael Holbrook, et al., v. Officer Khalid Rasuli, et al.
Court: Prince George’s County Circuit Court
Case No.: CAL16-36619
Judge: Cathy Serrette
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: Verdict for plaintiffs, Rafael Holbrook ($569,192) and Almaz Hewitt ($72,151)
Incident: May 25, 2015
Suit filed: October 3, 2016
Verdict: Jan. 26, 2018
Plaintiffs’ Attorney: J. Wyndal Gordon, The Law Office of J. Wyndal Gordon PA in Baltimore
Defendants’ Attorney: Tonia Y Belton-Gofreed of Prince George’s County Office of Law
Count: Excessive force, battery, false imprisonment and false arrest