The mother of a man who died after a violent encounter with Prince George’s County police has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging that the county failed to protect the public from an officer who was known to use “unlawful force.”
The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, requests damages of more than $75 million for Rena Ward, whose son, Demonte Ward-Blake, died in August after he was paralyzed during a traffic stop in October 2019.
“On October 17, 2019, Demonte took his last steps and experienced his last moment of life that was not saturated with intense and immeasurable pain. For the next six hundred and fifty-three days, Demonte’s life was a living hell. Then, because he was so injured, he ultimately died,” Ward’s lawyers wrote in the complaint.
Ward is represented by the law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, which is known for its handling of high-profile civil rights cases.
The lawsuit also names as a defendant Prince George’s County police Cpl. Bryant Strong, who faces charges of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office stemming from Ward-Blake’s arrest. That case is still pending, state court records show.
A message left with the Murphy firm was not immediately returned Monday. Messages left with Prince George’s County and with a lawyer representing Strong in his criminal case also were not returned.
The lawsuit alleges that Strong “intentionally and viciously slammed Demonate on his face after he was already handcuffed behind his back.”
The Washington Post reported that police said Ward-Blake was pulled over for an expired tag on Oct. 17, 2019, and then tried to flee from the officers.
But the lawsuit claims that Strong’s attack on Ward-Blake was part of a pattern and practice of illegal uses of force by Prince George’s County police officers. It also alleges that police officials ignored signs that Strong posed a danger to the public.
“As a direct and proximate result of PGPD’s tolerance, encouragement, and condonation of using excessive force, upon information and belief, Defendant Strong was never properly flagged pursuant to the Early Identification System despite having used force against County citizens nearly 30 times from 2016 to 2019,” the complaint claims.
“Instead, he was permitted by his ranking officers to brutalize other citizens, just as he ultimately did to Demonte Ward-Blake.”
The lawsuit lists dozens of examples of Prince George’s County police using excessive force dating back decades. It also accuses the department of failing to follow its own use of force policies, including the Early Identification System policy that was designed to recognize officers at risk of using improper force.
According to the complaint, Ward-Blake suffered severe spinal damage during his arrest. He was transported to a hospital and soon needed surgery to remove “vertebral discs in order to decompress his spinal cord.” Surgeons also fused his vertebra and inserted plates, rods and screws into his spine.
These interventions did not repair Ward-Blake’s quadriplegia, and he was ultimately left “permanently and nearly completely disabled,” according to the complaint. Ward-Blake died on Aug. 1, 2021, and Maryland’s chief medical examiner ruled that his flattened spine contributed to his death.
The lawsuit brings Monell claims against Prince George’s County and alleges excessive force, negligence and wrongful death.
The case is docketed at Ward-Blake et al v. Prince George’s County, Md., et al, 8:22-cv-00422.