A D.C. police officer who shot a suspected drug courier in 1981 when he said he was dragged by the man's car in a parking lot at National Airport "overreacted and used more force than was reasonably necessary," a federal judge here has ruled.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge John H. Pratt, which found the federal government liable in the incident, came in a $5 million civil lawsuit brought by Alonzo Glascoe, 34, of Northeast Washington, who was left paralyzed from the waist down.
The amount of damages will be determined at a future trial.
In his ruling Wednesday, Pratt said he gave no credit to testimony by Officer Roger Isaac, who was a member of a special Drug Enforcement Administration task force, that he was dragged through the parking lot at speeds of about 20 mph because Glascoe had unexpectedly rolled up an automatic window on his arm.
But Pratt also discounted Glascoe's testimony that he drove off because Isaac was "starting to go for his gun."
"At no time was Officer Isaac in danger of death or serious bodily injury," Pratt ruled, noting that Isaac would have been bruised and his arm possibly broken if the incident had occurred as he said.
"This is one of these sad, tragic events that could have been avoided," Glascoe's attorney, Joseph Koonz, said yesterday.
"I believe that the officer just got carried away and got excited and saw his macho image evaporate as this guy first ignored him and then tried to drive away," Koonz said.
Glascoe, who Koonz said helps run a Washington coffee shop, could not be reached for comment.
Gary Hankins, a spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said yesterday that Pratt's ruling and the pending suit are likely to have an effect on many police officers. Pointing out that much of police work is self-initiated, Hankins said, "These kinds of decisions make a police officer think twice about putting himself or herself at risk of this kind of litigation.
"It's aggravating enough when a jury of civilians deliberating a case in the calm, objective atmosphere of a courtroom, usually years later, loses sight of that fact. It's particularly upsetting when a judge does."
The U.S. attorney's office, which defended the government in the case, said it had no comment.
According to court papers, Isaac followed Glascoe, who arrived at National Airport on an Eastern Airlines shuttle, to the parking lot because Glascoe met the DEA's profile for a possible drug courier.
When Glascoe got into the car, Isaac tapped on the side window and showed his identification. Glascoe then rolled down the glass and asked if Isaac had a warrant, and Isaac put his arm through the window to show his identification.
Glascoe then drove off, apparently dragging Isaac, until he crashed into another vehicle and Isaac managed to fire his gun. The bullet severed Glascoe's spine and paralyzed him immediately.
A quantity of heroin was found beneath Glascoe's car, and he was later charged with possession of heroin and assaulting an officer.
The heroin charge was subsequently dropped. He was initially convicted on the assault charge, but the conviction was overturned by an appeals court, and he was acquitted at a second trial.