A Northeast Washington woman who claimed a D.C. police officer used excessive force when he shot and paralyzed her husband who was high on PCP and creating a disturbance was awarded $400,000 yesterday by a D.C. Superior Court jury.
The jury found that the city improperly trained the officer in methods of handling a person who, the woman claimed, was deranged because of his drug use.
"I'm just glad the truth came out finally," said Deborah Peters, whose husband, Raymond, was shot once in the back in front of his home on Christmas Eve three years ago and later committed suicide. "He [the police officer] could have handled it in a much better way than he did," Peters said.
Assistant Police Chief Marty Tapscott, head of police operations, said after the verdict that the department has grown increasingly aware of the difficulties in handling people who use PCP, which can cause violent behavior, and is now developing new training methods.
"I know we have not had any formal training on the drug PCP at this time," Tapscott said, but "we are developing a program to inform officers about the effects of PCP so that when they apprehend someone they will know how to do that."
Tapscott added that "perhaps what we need to do is look at how we can counter this violence short of using force . . . As long as PCP is as prevelant as it is, there are going to be more cases like this."
An attorney for the city, Beverly J. Burke, yesterday asked for a mistrial because of publicity about the case that appeared while the jury was deliberating.
Raymond Peters was a 25-year-old soldier on Christmas leave from the Army when he got high on PCP and began prancing down the 1800 block of Jackson Street NE, hitting cars with a large walking stick as they passed by.
Police said they received a call from Peter's sister, saying her brother was chasing her with a stick and hitting cars. Officer Norman I. Bell, a 10-year veteran who had never used his service revolver in the line of duty, responded to the call while riding alone in his patrol car.
Witness accounts differed as to what happened when Bell arrived. The officer found Peters in a standoff with a motorist, who was wielding a nightstick. Bell ordered both men to drop their sticks, but Peters refused and a scuffle ensued.
Bell said Peters hit him on the arm with his stick and that Peters turned and kicked him in the stomach.
Bell said he fired his revolver because he thought we would faint from the blows.
At the time he was shot, Peters was awaiting trial on a charge of possession of PCP. He later was convicted of assault on a police officer but hanged himself at his home before his lawsuit against the city came to trial.
Deborah Peters claimed Bell and the city were responsible for her husband's death.
According to attorney Burke, there was no way the officer could have known that Peters was high on drugs and that there was no standard dictating that Bell should have handled the situation differently.
Police officers are permitted to use firearms when they are faced with threats of bodily harm or death.
Peters' attorney, Robert Cadeaux, told the jury that the officer never should have attempted to subdue Peters physically and should have waited for reinforcements or used a less violent approach.
"Their inattendance to training had a whole lot to do with [Peters'] paralysis and ultimate death," Cadeaux said after the verdict was delivered.