D.C. officials agreed yesterday to pay $489,000 to a 23-year-old Washington man who sued the city after he was left permanently paralyzed from the neck down after an altercation with a policeman in November 1979.
The payment to Wayne Eugene Parker of 4520 Fort Totten Dr. NE is one of the largest the city has ever agreed to pay on a claim of police brutality, according to deputy corporation counsel John Suda, who described the settlement as "fair."
Parker was arrested and accused of sexual solicitation on Nov. 28, 1979, by undercover police officer Cecil Schoniwitz--a charge that Parker's attorneys said was dropped. Parker contended that Schoniwitz picked him up and threw him to the ground, head first, crushing his spinal cord and leaving him permanently paralyzed.
The incident began near 15th and I streets NW after Parker, according to a police account, offered to engage in a sexual act with the officer and got into an unmarked police car. Both Parker and Schoniwitz agree that Parker jumped out of the car after Schoniwitz told Parker he was under arrest.
In the suit, Parker accused Schoniwitz of "intentionally, willfully and maliciously" injuring him, and of using unnecessary and "outrageous" force by lifting the 120-pound Parker several feet off the ground and throwing him down.
In a sworn deposition, Schoniwitz, a 12-year veteran, said that Parker fell during a scuffle after a short chase and pulled Schoniwitz on top of him. Schoniwitz is still a member of the police force and, according to Richard Brooks, deputy general counsel of the police department, no disciplinary action will be taken against him.
"We have no adequate grounds on which to do anything against the officer," Brooks said yesterday in an interview. "The nature of a settlement is that you disregard whether anyone was right, wrong or indifferent. Only two people were there and they disagree somewhat on what happened. As far as we're concerned, we have a crap shoot."
Under the settlement, which was reached in U.S. District Court as a trial was about to begin, neither Schoniwitz nor the city conceded any wrongdoing, Suda said.
Parker's attorneys, Douglas Mishkin and Neil Levy, said in court papers that charges against Parker were subsequently dropped.
Although Parker had sued the city for $10 million, his lawyers said they felt the settlement "is more than enough to provide for Parker's future care." Parker, who lives with his sister, needs constant attention as a result of his condition, according to his lawyers.
Parker declined to talk with a reporter but said, through his lawyers, that "I have no animosity toward the cop, I just want to get on with my life."
Also contributing to this story was Washington Post staff writer Ed Bruske.