The family of William Ray, who was shot to death by a Prince George's County police officer in December, 1977, has filed suit against the officer and the county, seeking $2.7 million.
The "wrongful death" suit was filed by Ella Ray, the victim's mother, David Ray, his brother, and Mary E. Woods, his sister, late last month at almost the same time the officer, Peter F. Morgan, was filing suit trying to win reinstatement to the county police department.
Morgan, 23, was fired by Chief John W. Rhoads on June 21 when Rhoads agreed with a police trial board ruling that Morgan had used excessive force on Dec. 24, 1977, when he shot Ray in the back of the head.
Ray, 32, had been arrested earlier that day for allegedly stealing two hams from a supermarket. He broke from Morgan's custody in the Seat Pleasant police station and fled. Morgan gave chase, three times ordered him to halt, then fired one shot.
Morgan was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by a county grand jury but later was fired for violating the general order governing use of deadly force.
The seven-count suit names the county and Morgan as defendants and puts the county in the position of having to defend Morgan while he himself has a suit pending against the county.
"I don't think it really makes any difference," County Attorney Robert B. Ostrom said yesterday. "These are two distinct and different problems, they are different kinds of cases." Different lawyers from Ostrom's office have been assigned to the cases.
Morgan said he saw irony in the situation and said he would be more inclined to agree to an out-of-court settlement in which the county pays the family a certain amount of money in return for the dropping of the suit than he would be if he had not been fired.
"My instinct is to fight it all the way through court," he said, "because I don't think the county should be paying these people anything.
"But if the county wants to go and pay its own money to settle the thing, that's fine with me. Right now it wouldn't bother me to see the county pay $50,000. But that's just because I'm not too high on the county just now."
The county recently paid $10,000 to the family of Michael A. Washington, who was shot and kiled by a county police officer in 1975. That was an out-of-court settlement.
"We're willing to discuss an out-of-court settlement," said Ray's lawyer, Paris A. Artis. "But we wouldn't have filed the suit if we weren't prepared to fight it through court. This death was wrong, we don't think there's any question about that."
Morgan's reinstatement suit against the county is scheduled for March 9. No date has been set for the Ray family's suit.