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Baltimore judge to rule on scope of employment in GTTF case

The city and the family of a man who was victimized by the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force are asking a Baltimore judge to rule on whether the Baltimore police officers were acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the victim’s false arrest. The officers must be indemnified by the city if they were found to have been acting within the scope of their employment.

William James filed suit last year alleging that three GTTF officers stopped his car, pulled him out, planted a gun on him and arrested him. The officers consented to a $32,000 judgment in April and James’ family is now asking the court to require the city, which generally indemnifies police officers in lawsuits, to pay the $32,000.

James died while the matter was being litigated and his estate is now suing for payment. The parties agreed to file cross-motions for summary judgment on the issue and argued before Baltimore City Circuit Judge Jeannie J. Hong on Monday.

The issue of whether GTTF officers were acting within the scope of their employment at relevant times will be a key factor in the dozens of pending and future lawsuits against them, the Baltimore Police Department and the city. The city’s memorandum of understanding with the police union and Maryland law requires the city to pay damages in lawsuits only when officers act within the scope of their employment.

The office of City Solicitor Andre Davis argues that the officers were engaged in a criminal conspiracy and that the city is not required to pay judgments against them.

“Illegal conduct like this can never be said to be within the scope of employment,” Justin S. Conroy, an attorney with the Baltimore City Law Department, told Hong.

Conroy also argued that the incidents to which the officers pleaded guilty occurred around the same time as James’ arrest and involve similar facts.

“These guys are predators (and) they were hunting,” Conroy said of the GTTF officers. “They were hunting for someone to plant a gun on.”

But attorney Mandy L. Miliman, who represents James’ estate, told Hong that she should look at the specific facts of James’ case rather than at the “vast conspiracy” described by the city.

“I would ask this court to evaluate this case on the facts,” Miliman said, describing the city’s request for a “sweeping ruling” as dangerous.

The breadth — or narrowness — of Hong’s ruling will affect current and future cases against the officers. Hong said she would issue a written opinion within two weeks.

Davis said that the parties want to fast-track the eventual decision to the Court of Appeals for a ruling, bypassing the Court of Special Appeals. The high court has already tentatively scheduled arguments in another GTTF case for January on a question on scope of employment certified to it by a federal judge and it will likely be heard first.

Precedent

The Court of Appeals defines acts as within the scope of employment if they were “in furtherance of the employer’s business and could be fairly termed ‘incident to the performance of duties entrusted to’ the employee.” The court considers facts such as whether the conduct is the kind the employee is employed to perform, if the act is one commonly done by the employee, if the act occurs during a time connected to the employment, if the employer has reason to expect the act will be done and if the act is criminal.

In 2000, the Court of Special Appeals held that a police officer who pulled over a woman for a traffic violation and then raped her was not acting within the scope of his employment. In another case, in 2006, the Court of Special Appeals held that an officer who sought out and shot and killed a man he believed was having an affair with his wife was not acting within the scope of his employment.

However, in 2010 the Court of Appeals found that a woman’s wrongful arrest was “incident to (the defendant’s) general authority as a police officer.”

Miliman, of D’Alesandro & Miliman PA in Baltimore, said that James’ case involved city employees committing intentional torts and that he was stopped and forced to obey their orders only by virtue of their authority as police officers.

But Conroy called the officers “mobsters dressed in uniforms” whose actions could not have been in furtherance of their employer’s business because violating the law is not part of the department’s legitimate business interests.

“They not only violated the law, they made a mockery of the constitution,” Conroy said, adding that other cases in which police were found to have been within the scope of their employment began “with a granularity of legitimate conduct.”

The case is Estate of William James v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, 24C19002784.


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