Retired Prince George's County policeman John R. Cicala testified today that he had failed to go before a grand jury with allegations of misconduct against fellow officers on a so-called "death squad" in 1967 because he was "in fear of my life."
"What was the source of that fear?" asked attorney Barnet D. Skolnik in federal court here.
"Any source within the police department," answered Cicala.
Several Prince George's police officers attending the trial today stared stonily at Cicala.
Cicala's assertions came in his fifth day of testimony before a six-member civil jury hearing a $9 million lawsuit brought by survivors of two men shot and killed by police and by two others who had been arrested during a series of convenience store holdups in 1967.
The claimants contend that the men were improperly recruited by police informants to participate in the holdups that were staged by the "death squad."
Cicala testified earlier that squad members planned the robberies from "A to Z" and that their actions were "legally and morally wrong."
Alleged members of the squad include Lt. Col. Joseph D. Vasco Jr., now the second-highest ranking official in the department, Capt. James Fitzpatrick, commander of the major crimes division, and retired lieutenant Blair Montgomery. The lawsuit also contends that Prince George's State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. and former assistant state's attorney Benjamin R. Wolman authorized the staged holdups.
Cicala, who said he was a junior member of the "death squad," was fired from the force in November 1967 when he refused to volunteer as a clerk at a store that he said the squad had targeted for a "robbery." He later was reinstated, and retired in 1977.
The "death squad" allegations first came to public light in 1979 in a series of articles in The Washington Post. Cicala was a key source for the series.
Today, Edward P. Camus, one of several attorneys defending police and county officials in the lawsuit, attempted to portray Cicala as motivated by bitterness and resentment in his testimony against fellow officers.
In frequently sharp exchanges with Camus, Cicala acknowledged that he was embittered by his dismissal in 1967 and the county's refusal to grant him work-related medical disability retirement in 1977.
But he added, "I didn't institute this lawsuit . . . or ask to come here to testify."
At another point, Camus asked Cicala why he did not go before a county grand jury with his allegations against the "death squad."
"Because of fear for myself and my family," said Cicala.
"Well, you talked to the state's attorney's office about the allegations ," said Camus. "You talked to the police . . . . You talked to the U.S. attorney."
Yes, agreed Cicala. "I had nothing to hide."
"So why were you 'in fear' ? " asked Camus.
Cicala stared at Camus momentarily across the courtroom and then said slowly, "You don't know what can possibly happen."
Asked later by Skolnik, one of several attorneys representing the claimants against the police, to clarify what he meant, Cicala said he had been "in fear of my life or that of my family . . . from any source within the police department."