A former Justice Department lawyer was awarded a $29,002 judgment against the city yesterday after a D.C. Superior Court jury agreed that he had been maliciously prosecuted in 1977 when he was accused of assaulting a District police officer. John H. Earle, a 28-year veteran trial attorney for the federal government, originally asked for $4 million in damages stemming from a late-night incident at his home in the 1700 block of Irving Street NW.
During the trial, police officer Willis Bailey Jr. testified that he went to Earle's house because Earle reportedly had threatened several neighborhood youths with a gun after their football had gone into his yard. Bailey claimed Earle opened the door a crack and pointed a handgun at him. The policeman testified that he ordered Earle to drop the handgun, but Earle refused. Bailey said he kicked the door open and wrestled the gun away from Earle.
Earle testified that he had taken an unloaded war souvenir pistol to the door after hearing someone pound on it. When he saw that two police officers were outside, Earle said, he moved the gun from his left hand to his right, holding the gun barrel. He said the gun's handgrip was pointed toward police. He then bent down to pick up his small dog with his left hand. As he bent over, police kicked open the door, knocked him down and grabbed the gun, he testified.
At the trial, Washington physician Karl Jonas testified that a cut on Earle's right hand could have been made only by the front gun sight, which Earle's attorney said, proved that Earle had the gun pointed at himself -- not police -- and was ready to hand it to police.
The jury awarded Earle $20,000 for malicious prosecution, $6,000 for unreasonable seizure of a gun, $3,000 for false imprisonment, and $2 for trespassing by police.
Earle's case had caused friction between police and prosecutors. After Bailey arrested Earle, prosecutors dismissed the charge, claiming the case was too weak to try. The dismissal upset police who claimed the prosecutors were simply protecting Earle because he was a Justice Deparmtent lawyer. The police conducted another investigation and again asked prosecutors to file an assualt charge against Earle, but prosecutors again refused. After the city refused to prosecute, Earle sued.