$450,000 Awarded in Suit Over Collision With Officer

By Paul Duggan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

A psychologist for the Army was awarded $450,000 by a jury yesterday in a lawsuit in which he alleged he was falsely arrested by D.C. police and maliciously prosecuted after a minor traffic collision with an off-duty officer in 2004.

Steven Tulin, 54, a clinical psychologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, was acquitted of reckless driving in a trial before a D.C. Superior Court judge in 2005. He then sued the D.C. government, the officer involved in the collision and the officer who arrested him.

"I feel great," Tulin said after the Superior Court jury in the week-long civil trial returned verdicts in his favor yesterday. "I feel exonerated. This shouldn't have happened to anybody in this country. It's disgusting to me that it would happen in my own town."

Carol Connelly, the assistant D.C. attorney general who represented the city and the officers, declined to discuss the case yesterday. Neither officer could be located for comment.

Tulin, who lives in the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest Washington, said the incident occurred as he was driving to Walter Reed about 8:30 a.m. Oct. 27, 2004. He said he was turning left from 14th Street NW onto Newton Street in his 2003 Porsche 911 when the driver behind him, in a 1999 Honda Accord, began honking and gesturing.

"She was trying to pass me on the left as we were turning," Tulin said. "So I stopped so she could go. But then she stopped, too. So I decided to just go, so I could get away from her, because she looked like she was really irate."

The driver of the Accord, Barbara R. Johnson-Rauf, 38, has been on the police force for 17 years and is a detective assigned to youth investigations. She was not on duty at the time of the incident.

On Newton Street, Tulin said, the Accord struck his Porsche from behind at a low speed. "She got out and screamed at me like a petulant child: 'You did that on purpose!' " He said Johnson-Rauf accused him of applying his brakes abruptly, to annoy her. "I hadn't touched my brakes," he said. "I told her, 'I did nothing of the kind!' "

At the civil trial, Tulin's attorney, Gregory L. Lattimer, alleged that Johnson-Rauf called D.C. police and issued an "officer in distress" alert, which prompted numerous officers to rush to the scene. Johnson-Rauf denied issuing the emergency alert. Tulin said that within minutes, about 10 officers had arrived on Newton Street.

Officer Leticia R. McKoy, a member of the force since 1989, arrested Tulin on a reckless-driving charge. He spent almost 17 hours in custody, including 12 hours in a police station holding cell, before being released. McKoy, 40, a patrol officer in the department's 3rd Police District, was named in the lawsuit with Johnson-Rauf.

After a brief trial in April 2005, Judge James E. Boasberg found Tulin not guilty of reckless driving. Then, in the civil case before Judge Jeanette Jackson Clark, a jury sided with Tulin after deliberating for a day and a half.

In an interview, Tulin said he bought the Porsche, which he called his "dream car," to celebrate his 50th birthday and would not have abruptly braked with a vehicle close behind him.

"Why would anybody with a car like that want somebody to hit the car?" he said. "I'm a car nut. I love that car. My car has never even been through a carwash because I wash it by hand."

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