A Prince George's County civil jury found yesterday that two county police officers are not liable for a 1996 incident in which one officer shot a suspected car thief as he was running away and the police dog commanded by the second officer found and bit the wounded man.
After 2 1/2 hours of deliberations, the jury found that Cpl. Ronnie D. Quick, 39, and Cpl. Stephanie Mohr, 29, did not act with malice during the Aug. 26, 1996, arrest of Bryan A. Diggs, 33.
About 8:30 a.m. that day, Quick shot the fleeing Diggs in the back of the thigh, according to testimony in the civil case, which began Monday in Prince George's Circuit Court. Diggs crawled into a heavily wooded area, and Mohr tracked him with her police dog, which found and bit Diggs, according to court records and court testimony.
The verdict resolved one of at least 13 civil lawsuits alleging excessive force that were pending against members of the county police canine unit. Mohr is named in two of the other lawsuits. The FBI also is investigating whether the police canine unit has engaged in a pattern of brutality.
Responding to news reports on the lawsuits and the FBI probe, County Executive Wayne K. Curry (D) and Police Chief John S. Farrell announced changes in training in May that they said would decrease unnecessary and excessive police dog attacks.
In the Diggs case, Circuit Court Judge Steven I. Platt instructed jurors that to find the officers liable for damages, they would have to find that the officers acted with malice toward Diggs.
"It was an appropriate verdict," said Associate County Attorney Laura J. Gwinn, who defended the officers and the county. (The county indemnifies police officers named in civil suits and pays judgments against them.) "The officers are relieved that it's over," Gwinn said.
Diggs and his attorney, Sam Shapiro, said they were disappointed.
"I tried my best. Everything I stated during the trial was true," Diggs said.
Diggs, who at the time of the incident was a cocaine and marijuana user who had previous convictions for burglary and car theft, testified that Quick shot him for no reason and that Mohr profanely proclaimed that the dog attack was payback for running.
Quick testified that Diggs was sitting in a car whose back windshield was broken out and ran away when a police dispatcher told Quick on his radio, in police code, that the car was stolen. Quick testified that Diggs slammed a car door into him and, while running away, turned back toward him and moved his hands toward his waistband.
Quick testified that he fired three shots because he was afraid Diggs was reaching for a gun; Diggs testified that he never turned toward Quick. It turned out Diggs did not have a gun but did have a pocketknife in one of his trouser pockets. One of the shots hit Diggs in the back of his right thigh.
Diggs testified that after he was shot, he crawled into a wooded area and within minutes was found by a county police dog, which nipped him and backed off until Mohr arrived and commanded the dog to bite him as he pleaded to have the dog stop. Diggs testified that Mohr screamed: "Shut up! This is what we do to [expletives] who run from us."
Mohr testified that her police dog, Valk, who was on a 30-foot leash, bit Diggs on the arm and that she commanded him to get off when she arrived moments later. She testified that she did not swear at Diggs or tell him he was being punished for running.
One juror, who did not give her name, said she thought the officers were more credible than Diggs, who, according to testimony, initially gave police a false name while he was in the hospital.