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Prince George's settles suit by Berwyn Heights mayor over storming of home

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2011; 7:29 PM

Attorneys for Prince George's County settled a civil lawsuit Monday brought by Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo in response to an incident in which members of a county sheriff's SWAT team stormed his home looking for drugs, fatally shot the family's two dogs and held him at gunpoint.

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The agreement was reached on the day the civil trial was scheduled to begin in Prince George's Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro.

County officials said they had 30 days to finalize the settlement. Calvo and a spokesman for County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) declined to comment on the amount of the settlement.

Although the details are not official, Calvo said the settlement will include an agreement by the Baker administration to change how county law enforcement officers conduct such operations. The changes will involve such issues as how and when SWAT teams are deployed and the humane treatment of pets.

"We're achieving reforms we were seeking," Calvo said. "This has been a 30-month process in which we have been trying to understand what happened to us and why. We learned a lot. We learned there were significant deficiencies in training and over-deployment of the SWAT team."

The July 29, 2008, incident made national headlines and once again raised questions about the use of force by law enforcement in the county.

A police dog at a shipping facility in Arizona flagged a package addressed to Trinity Tomsic, Calvo's wife. Prince George's police intercepted the package, which they said contained marijuana. Officers posed as deliverymen and left the package on the couple's porch.

About 7 p.m., Calvo returned from walking his black Labradors - Payton and Chase - and brought the package inside.

A sheriff's SWAT team, called in because police SWAT units were not available at the time, stormed the home. Deputies fatally shot both dogs.

Calvo's attorney, Timothy F. Maloney, questioned deputies and police officers for hours in sworn depositions. Calvo said the depositions revealed that Chase ran from one deputy into another room, where he was confronted by another armed deputy. The dog turned to run from that deputy, who shot the dog twice, Calvo said.

Calvo said the deputies who invaded his home were not told that no one in the home had any criminal record.

The lawsuit alleged that deputies failed to "knock and announce" their presence before storming in. Some deputies were under the impression that police had obtained a "no knock" warrant, which police had not applied for, Maloney said.

County police officers and sheriff's deputies also failed to consult Berwyn Heights police before the raid.

Days after the raid, police said that Calvo and Tomsic knew nothing about the package of marijuana and had nothing to do with the drug trade.

An internal sheriff's department investigation found no wrongdoing by deputies. Then-Sheriff Michael A. Jackson said his deputies "did their jobs to the fullest extent of their abilities."

Last year, Jackson campaigned for the Democratic nomination for county executive and was defeated by Baker.

The sheriff's department, which is responsible for security at courthouses in Upper Marlboro and Hyattsville, uses Labradors, including black Labs, as police dogs to sniff out drugs and other contraband. Canine officers have said Labs are good to use in a courthouse because they are so friendly around people.

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