Prince George's County attorneys have asked a judge to move to another county the civil trial involving a police dog attack that left a Capitol Heights man with massive injuries to his leg, contending that the government cannot get a fair and impartial jury in its own county.
Assistant County Attorney Laura J. Gwinn stated in court papers seeking the change of venue that the county jury pool has been tainted by public reports and newscasts about allegations of police brutality, both locally and nationally.
She specifically cited reports in The Washington Post about the large number of lawsuits pending against the county stemming from assaults by police dogs.
Gwinn's motion also stated that racial concerns are another reason the county seeks a move.
The case, in which Julius LaRosa Booker, 34, is suing Cpl. Anthony Mileo, was scheduled to go to trial this past Tuesday in Prince George's County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro before retired Calvert County Circuit Court Judge Thomas A. Rymer. (Judges from other jurisdictions sometimes preside over civil cases in Prince George's Circuit Court.) The trial was postponed after Gwinn said Mileo was too distraught to testify because his police dog, King, died early Monday of a stomach ailment.
In court papers opposing the move out of Prince George's, Booker's Riverdale attorney, Terrell N. Roberts III, said the publicity about the police department's canine unit "has not been so massive and widespread as to be clearly prejudicial."
The fact that there has been pretrial publicity about the canine unit does not mean a fair and impartial jury cannot be impaneled, Roberts wrote.
Although criminal defendants in high-profile cases sometimes seek a change of venue because of pretrial publicity, it is unusual for a government entity to ask for such a move, legal experts said.
"You don't usually see governments asking for a change of venue," said Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University. Pointing out the nationally publicized cases "suggests they think they couldn't get a fair trial anywhere," Rothstein said.
Booker's attorneys have not suggested any racial motivation for the Oct. 21, 1997, attack on their client, who was bitten numerous times and had a large chunk of his right leg torn off after he ran from a stolen car.
Mileo asserts that Booker was bitten because he resisted arrest and tried to choke King.
Booker was charged with stealing a van, resisting arrest, beating a canine and other offenses. All of the charges against him were dropped.
Gwinn's six-page motion notes that in police brutality cases in New York and Los Angeles, the victims were black and the officers were white, and that Booker is black and Mileo is white.
"Some of the publicity and discussion about these cases and about police brutality in general contains undertones of racial motivation," Gwinn wrote. "For jurors who have read the various articles and/or seen the television broadcasts, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to separate allegations from other cases from this one."
Gwinn's motion is scheduled to go before Circuit Court Judge William B. Spellbring Jr. on July 9.
Booker's suit is one of at least 13 civil cases alleging excessive force that are pending against members of the county police canine unit. Mileo is named in two of the suits, including the Booker case.
In addition, the FBI is investigating whether the 23-officer unit has engaged in a pattern of excessive force.
Prince George's Police Chief John S. Farrell announced three weeks ago that he was changing training and tightening supervision of the canine unit. Instead of training dogs to capture suspects by biting them, officers would train the dogs to hold suspects at bay by barking loudly and biting only if they attempt to flee or harm the dog. This "guard and bark" approach is used by dozens of police agencies in the western United States.
In another motion, which Spellbring is to hear July 9, Gwinn seeks to bar Roberts's dog training expert, one of the leading champions of the guard-and-bark technique.
In court papers, Gwinn says the opinions of VanNess H. Bogardus III, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's canine sergeant, are "not generally accepted within the police canine community."
In their reply, Roberts and Christopher A. Griffiths note that county police are adopting the guard-and-bark method championed by Bogardus.