Steve Lash//September 24, 2019
//September 24, 2019
A Baltimore jury on Tuesday awarded $25 million to a detention center inmate who sued the state of Maryland after he was savagely beaten in 2014 by gang members as prison guards looked on or away.
The multimillion-dollar award may be slashed to $200,000 under the Maryland Tort Claims Act. But Daquan Wallace’s lead attorney said he would fight any effort to impose the statutory cap due to the guards’ egregious disregard for Wallace’s safety and the grievous injuries that have since confined him to a wheelchair and rendered him unable to speak.
“I don’t think this (cap) is justice and I don’t think our courts of appeal will think that’s justice,” Cary J. Hansel said.
The Baltimore City Circuit Court jury deliberated for about two hours before finding the state liable for failing to protect Wallace from the violence, for engaging in policies or practices that violated Wallace’s rights under the Maryland Constitution and for negligently training or supervising its guards, according to the verdict sheet.
The jurors awarded Wallace damages for his pain and suffering in the amount of $15 million based on the state’s negligence and $10 million based on the state’s violation of his constitutional rights, the sheet stated.
In a statement, Hansel called the verdict “a cry for justice, not just for this family, but also for all victims of civil rights violations.”
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that it was reviewing the decision.
According to Wallace’s lawsuit, Black Guerilla Family gang members pummeled Wallace in the Baltimore City Detention Center after he refused to join their ranks.
Nearby guards who had earlier placed Wallace near the gang members declined to intervene during the Dec. 18, 2014, attack, the complaint stated.
Wallace, who was 20 at the time and being held on a nonviolent criminal charge, is paralyzed in his right arm and right leg and has very limited movement in his left arm and left leg. He communicates primarily via text message, Hansel said.
In Wallace’s complaint, Hansel wrote that “the State of Maryland, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, and the administrators thereof, were well aware of the atrociously violent acts taking place within the Detention Center based upon the numerous complaints, reports of misconduct, and internal investigations, yet failed to do anything about it.”
Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the state-run facility closed in 2015, amid reports that a gang leader was running a drug operation with the help of guards.
“The final closure of this detention center removes a stain on the reputation of our state and Maryland’s correctional system,” Hogan said then in a statement to The Washington Post. “For years, corruption, criminal activity, and deplorable conditions have plagued this facility.”
Hansel, of Hansel Law P.C. in Baltimore, is also representing Wallace in his pending federal civil rights case against the individual guards in U.S. District Court. In that case, Wallace claims the guards, while acting under color of state law, denied him his right to due process and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of Section 1983 of the 1871 Civil Rights Act.
Those federal claims would not be subject to Maryland’s damages cap.
The guards have denied the allegations.
Nicole Wallace et al. v. State of Maryland et al.
Court: Baltimore City Circuit Court
Case No.: 24-c-17-006410
Judge: Philip S. Jackson
Proceeding: Jury trial
Outcome: Verdict for plaintiffs ($25 million in non-economic damages)
Incident: Dec. 18, 2014
Suit filed: Dec. 15, 2017
Verdict: Sept. 24, 2019
Plaintiffs’ Attorney: Cary J. Hansel of Hansel Law P.C. and Larry Greenberg of Greenberg Law Offices in Baltimore
Defendants’ Attorneys: Assistant Maryland Attorneys General Laura Mullally and Michelle Wilson