BALTIMORE, OCT. 2 -- A federal jury awarded $445,500 today to the family of a rural Charles County man shot and killed by a Maryland trooper in 1985 during a late-night chase that began when the man ran a red light.
The jury awarded the sum -- $432,500 in compensatory damages and the rest in punitive damages -- to the widow and two children of James Harland Morris Sr., 29, who was shot once in the back as he was fleeing on foot with several officers in pursuit, after his car crashed into a fence near Waldorf in Charles County on Dec. 19, 1985. Morris lived with his wife Donna in Bryantown in Charles County.
The six-member jury found that Trooper Michael Wayne Lindsey used excessive force, but made no similar finding against two other state troopers sued along with Lindsey. Lindsey fired the shot that killed Morris. An attorney for Lindsey said an appeal is being considered.
Lindsey, 25, was ordered dismissed last year from the Maryland State Police for firearms violations in the incident but has remained on duty, performing unarmed administrative work, pending appeal of the dismissal.
The slaying case also was referred to a Charles County grand jury, which declined to indict Lindsey.
Much of the civil suit in federal court here hinged on whether Lindsey fired at Morris simply for running a red light -- a misdemeanor -- or whether he believed Morris had committed a more serious felony, which in some circumstances can justify use of deadly force.
According to police, Morris was seen late at night running a red light at Rte. 301 and Mattawoman Beantown Road. He ignored attempts by one trooper to stop him, officials said, and sped away. Other officers, including Lindsey, joined the chase. Morris's car crashed into a fence, and he was shot when he tried to run.
Attorneys for the Morris family contended that at no time was Lindsey justified in shooting. Allen G. Windsor, attorney for Lindsey, countered that Lindsey heard sounds like gunfire coming from Morris' car -- later determined to be backfires -- and thus had reason to believe that Morris was armed and dangerous.
Also, Windsor said, when troopers tried to pass Morris and stop him on the road, Morris slammed his car against the police cruisers. This amounted to assault by auto, said Windsor, a felony when done to avoid apprehension.
Police said they found no weapon on Morris but found a small amount of PCP in his car.
The finding against Lindsay means that he will be liable for the entire $445,500 award unless the verdict is reversed or reduced. His attorney could petition the state, Lindsey's former employer, to provide part of the total.