A Prince George's County jury has awarded a Capitol Heights man more than $43,000 for a police dog attack in which the plaintiff testified he also was beaten by a county police officer.
A Circuit Court civil jury found that police officers used excessive force when they arrested Timothy Brooks, 41, on Jan. 17, 1992. Brooks, a suspect in a break-in, testified that former canine officer Mary Shields set her police dog on him twice, even though he was not resisting arrest--a contention the county disputed.
The dog, a German shepherd that weighed 85 pounds, tore at Brooks's left forearm, leaving permanent scars and weakness in the plaintiff's left hand, according to testimony and court records.
Brooks's lawsuit is one of at least 14 civil cases alleging brutality and recklessness by the Prince George's County police canine unit. The FBI is conducting a civil investigation into whether the canine unit has engaged in a pattern of brutality.
The Oct. 19 civil judgment was not the first against the county as a result of Shields's actions.
In April 1993, a Calvert County jury awarded $1.7 million to a Forestville man who was paralyzed after he was shot in the back by Shields in February 1989.
The jury in that case found that Shields used excessive force when she shot Troy Brooks, an unarmed teenage drug-dealing suspect who was fleeing police. He is no relation to Timothy Brooks. Shields fired twice; one shot hit Brooks in the back, paralyzing him from the chest down.
In the recent case, Timothy Brooks sued Shields and Cpl. Edward A. Gordon, alleging that Gordon beat him. The jury found that Gordon, a 13-year member of the force, did not engage in excessive force but that Shields did in setting her dog on Brooks. After nine years with the force, Shields retired from the police department in the mid-1990s; she could not be reached for comment.
The jury awarded Brooks $25,000 for pain and suffering and $18,426.82 in compensatory damages, said Regis A. Johnston, one of two Camp Springs attorneys who represented Brooks. The county indemnifies officers who are sued and would pay the judgment if it is not overturned or reduced.
Brooks "was pleased with the decision," Johnston said. "I think it was an appropriate verdict. The amount of the award was disappointing, but it's the function of the jury, you have to accept that."
A police spokeswoman said the department does not comment on civil cases involving current or former county police officers.
"We disagree with the jury's verdict," said Deputy County Attorney John Bielec, who added that the county had yet to decide whether to appeal. County Attorney Andrew Murray argued during the civil trial that Brooks was injured because he resisted arrest.
Brooks was a suspect in the break-in of an unoccupied office building in the 3800 block of Regency Parkway in Suitland. Police alleged that Brooks ran away and resisted arrest; Brooks contended that he did not break in to the office. Brooks was ultimately convicted of larceny in connection with the break-in, Johnston said.
Brooks testified that Shields set her dog on him and that the dog bit his left forearm and released. Even though he was not resisting, Shields again set the dog on him, and the animal bit Brooks in the arm again, Brooks testified.
Castro, the dog who bit Brooks, apparently was the same dog who severely bit a Takoma Park woman about a year after the attack on Brooks. Esther Vathekan, who is suing the police department in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, was bitten in the head by a police dog named Castro as she slept in her Takoma Park house. Police went into the house to investigate a burglary.