A generation ago, Jerome E. Buie claimed that Prince George's County police violated his civil rights when they searched his basement and found evidence linking him to an armed robbery of a Hyattsville area pizza parlor.
Buie and his attorneys argued that a jogging suit that officers found in the basement should not have been used as evidence against him because the search was illegal -- Buie had already surrendered. Police and prosecutors argued that officers went into the basement for safety reasons, to search for any confederates who could have ambushed the officers.
Buie's claims went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1990. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for the February 1986 robbery of the Godfather's restaurant. He was released on Jan. 17, 1997, and his probation ended July 15, 1999.
Buie, now 45, is once again alleging that county police violated his rights. This time, he and his attorney are citing statements by a Circuit Court judge who suggested two county police officers committed a "home invasion" when they went into Buie's house last September and arrested him.
The civil lawsuit, filed in Circuit Court on July 11 by Upper Marlboro attorney Jimmy A. Bell, alleges that county police officers Joseph Constantino and Louis Williams stormed into Buie's home without justification, roughed him up without provocation and arrested him for no reason. Buie spent six days in the Prince George's Detention Center before he was released on a $2,500 bond.
On April 14, Circuit Court Judge Vincent J. Femia threw out charges of second-degree assault, obstructing and hindering a police officer, and resisting arrest. Femia dismissed the charges for "failure to state a crime," according to a court transcript. Femia also suggested the officers "invaded" Buie's home without justification.
Barbara Hamm, a police spokeswoman, said she could not comment because of the pending lawsuit. Constantino and Williams did not respond to phone messages.
Buie's lawsuit accuses the police of acting in violation of his constitutional rights.
Bell said Buie's criminal record -- in addition to the armed robbery, he was convicted in the 1980s of assault and battery and grand theft -- is not relevant to the allegations that Constantino and Williams violated his rights.
Buie has already served his sentence and paid his debt to society, and besides, the officers did not know about Buie's record when they encountered him, Bell said.
"It doesn't matter," Bell said. "You don't have a right to enter their home without probable cause."
In an interview, Buie said, "I committed no crime."
"This is like something out of a bad movie," Buie said. "To take you out of your home and humiliate you in front of your family and neighbors . . . "
On his lawyer's advice, Buie declined to answer questions about the September encounter.
The 18-page lawsuit accuses the officers of assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, intentional violation of emotional distress, invasion of privacy and negligence.
This is what happened, according to the lawsuit:
Last Sept. 25, Buie and his girlfriend, who is not identified in the suit or in the police charging document, threw a party at Buie's house in the 5300 block of 67th Avenue in Riverdale to celebrate the girlfriend's birthday.
Some guests indulged in a cake fight, and Buie and his girlfriend began cleaning up around the house shortly after midnight. While they were cleaning, the girlfriend slipped on a plastic floor cover that was smeared with cake and icing and hurt her knee.
The girlfriend asked Buie to call 911, which he did on a cordless phone. Buie provided enough information to the dispatcher for an ambulance to come to the home and help his girlfriend. Then the phone's battery gave out, and the call was abruptly terminated.
Ten to 15 minutes later, there was a loud knock on the door, and Buie opened it to find Constantino standing in the vestibule. The girlfriend asked the officer where the ambulance was, and Constantino replied that it was outside, the lawsuit alleges.
Constantino asked Buie to step outside. Buie, dressed only in boxer shorts and a T-shirt, asked why. The officer replied that if Buie did not, his girlfriend would not be treated. Constantino repeatedly asked Buie to step outside, and Buie continued to refuse.
Williams arrived and told Buie that if he did not step out of the house, he and Constantino would come in and get him. Buie started to close the door, and Williams charged in with a "flying tackle," the suit alleges, hurting Buie's hand and knee. Williams handcuffed Buie.
Williams then opened the door, allowing Constantino inside, and the two officers dragged Buie out of his home. When Buie asked why he was being arrested, Constantino slammed his face against a concrete patio slab outside the house, the lawsuit alleges.
Buie's mother, who lives nearby, heard the commotion and emerged from her home to see the officers handling her son roughly, the lawsuit alleges.
In a charging document, Constantino alleged that Buie swore at him and pushed Williams when the officer "approached" Buie to escort him out of the house.
When he dismissed the charges against Buie in April, Femia read the portion of the police charging document describing how Buie was subdued, then commented, "So what we've got right now is a home invasion situation by the police."
Under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, police have no right to enter a person's home unless they have probable cause to believe that a crime has been or is being committed.