The Washington Post

$5.6M judgment for man in civil suit against Pr. George’s Sheriff’s Office

A Fort Washington man arrested in 2009 on a warrant that had been recalled two years earlier won a $5.6 million judgment in a civil lawsuit against the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office Thursday night, the man’s attorney said Friday.

According to his lawsuit and his attorney, Christopher Harper, 43, was arrested in D.C. in January 2009 after D.C. police pulled him over on a routine traffic stop and found he had an open warrant for failing to comply with a peace order.

That warrant had actually been recalled in 2007 — two days before Prince George’s County Sheriff’s officials entered it into a computer database accessible by other law enforcement agencies, said Timothy Maloney, Harper’s attorney.

“It was really quite something,” Maloney said. “The warrant had been entered into the system as an active warrant two days after the court recalled it.”

According to Maloney and the lawsuit, the man, a disc jockey and customer account executive with Chevy Chase bank, spent five days in jail, missing several disc jockeying jobs and eventually losing his job at the bank. The suit claims Harper repeatedly told authorities the warrant had been recalled, and D.C. police sent multiple requests to the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office seeking confirmation of that. Those requests went unanswered for days, according to the suit.

Maloney said jurors found the Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office had “an unlawful policy and custom of not running the warrant system correctly because they have so many mistakes in it.”

Sheriff’s officials have long acknowledged they are working through a backlog of tens of thousands of warrants, some dating back decades. In one recent case, deputies arrested a man charged in 1971 with larceny, receiving stolen goods and housebreaking — a statute now known as breaking and entering — though all the charges were later dropped.

A Prince George’s Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman said Friday afternoon that she would have to research the lawsuit and call back later.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.

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