ANNAPOLIS, SEPT. 3 -- A former mounted police officer who hates horses will be allowed to sue a police psychologist who accused him of faking his equine phobia, Maryland's second-highest court ruled today.
David E. Hughley's horse problems began in 1983 after he told his bosses at the Maryland- National Capital Park and Planning Commission Police that he didn't want to be transferred from driving a patrol car to patrolling on horseback because he had "no love of horses." Hughley, 31, said he had fallen from a pony when he was a child and that his uncle had suffered a disfiguring injury when a horse kicked him.
But his superiors persuaded him he'd be "a natural" because he was "bowlegged and skinny," according to court records, so Hughley found himself riding horses and cleaning stables. After a few weeks Hughley said he ached all over, vomited and suffered gastrointestinal distress, and requested a transfer away from the horses, the court records said.
A psychologist working under contract for the park police, Michael T. McDermott, talked to Hughley and concluded in a letter to Hughley's superiors "that this was not a bona fide phobia but a manipulation to get out of a work assignment he did not like."
"The manipulations he demonstrated indicate there may be more pathological character issues involved here than just contempt for superiors," McDermott added. "Other than with criminal elements, I have not seen an individual lie so boldly or so vehemently when to cooperate or to be truthful would only be in his best interest."
Hughley, a park police officer since 1982, filed a libel and slander suit against McDermott after he was fired in 1984. Lawyers for McDermott argued the psychologist's assessment was accurate, and that Hughley had no right to sue because he had signed a waiver allowing the psychologist to release his evaluation to Hughley's superiors.
A Prince George's County judge threw out Hughley's suit. But the Court of Special Appeals today said that the privilege the psychologist enjoyed would disappear if the report was made "with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless regard for its truth." The only way to resolve that issue, the court said, is to bring the case to trial.