PG County will pay $7.5M to settle claim of alleged police brutality

Steve Lash//March 30, 2023

PG County will pay $7.5M to settle claim of alleged police brutality

By Steve Lash

//March 30, 2023

Demonte Ward-Blake
Demonte Ward-Blake

Prince George’s County has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the mother of a man who sustained paralyzing injuries allegedly during a violent encounter with a county police officer.

The lawsuit, filed in February 2022, requested damages of more than $75 million for Rena Ward, whose son, Demonte Ward-Blake, was confined to a wheelchair after the October 2019 confrontation and died Aug, 1, 2021, at age 26.

His death resulted from injuries sustained in a District Heights shooting in November 2020 that he could neither avoid because of his disability nor survive because of his body’s weakened condition, according to the complaint, which alleged wrongful death, excessive force and negligence.

The multimillion-dollar settlement “absolutely sends a message,” the mother’s attorney said Thursday.

“It is an acknowledgment of the pain that the family went through,” added Malcolm Ruff, of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy in Baltimore. “This is just a measure of justice. There has to be some measure of justice.”

Prince George’s County admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement. County public information personnel did not immediately return email and telephone messages Thursday seeking comment on the case and its resolution.

In addition to the county, the lawsuit named former police officer Bryant W. Strong as a defendant.

Strong was convicted last May of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office stemming from his violent arrest of Ward-Blake on a charge of disorderly conduct.

Prince George’s County Circuit Judge DaNeeka V. Cotton sentenced Strong in July to 20 years in prison with all but one year suspended.

Strong has appealed his conviction. The Maryland Appellate Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month.

During the criminal trial, the prosecution argued that Strong had slammed Ward-Blake to the concrete. Strong’s defense was that Ward-Blake had fallen during a struggle with the officer.

According to court records, Ward-Blake was pulled over for an expired vehicle tag on Oct. 17, 2019. He reportedly tried to flee.

The lawsuit alleged that Strong “intentionally and viciously slammed Demonte on his face after he was already handcuffed behind his back.” Such brutal conduct was part of a pattern and practice of illegal use of force by Prince George’s County police, the civil complaint alleged.

The complaint listed dozens of examples of Prince George’s County police using excessive force dating back decades. It also alleged the department failed to follow its own use of force policies, including an Early Identification System designed to recognize officers at risk of using improper force, such as Strong.

According to the complaint, Ward-Blake suffered severe spinal damage during his arrest and 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.

Ward-Blake was ultimately left “permanently and nearly completely disabled,” according to the complaint.

The lawsuit was docketed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt as Estate of Demonte Ward-Blake and Rena Ward v. Prince George’s County, Md., et al., Civil Action No. TDC-22-0422.

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