July 9, 2013

Board approves $55K in lawsuit settlement over I-95 arrest

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By Christopher Goins

Chris@marylandreporter.com

Maryland state police badgeThe Board of Public Works approved $55,000 for a settlement in a racial profiling lawsuit involving a Philadelphia man who was stopped by the Maryland State Police, despite reservations from one board member.

The Maryland State Police requested the settlement money in a BPW meeting last week after considering the costs of going to trial and the costs of losing the trial — a move that made Comptroller Peter Franchot question the fortitude of the Maryland attorney general’s office.

“If you could just convey back to the attorney general I wish people would get a backbone over there and take these cases to court,” Franchot said.

Bernard Foster, chief of staff in the Department of State Police, explained that the department will pay $55,000 or more by going to trial — and if they lost the case they would spend “significantly more” than the settlement costs.

Franchot said he had “no complaint” with anything Foster said, and ultimately he joined the board’s other two members — the governor and the state treasurer — in approving the settlement money.

But he added that it was “outrageous” that the state would get concerned about losing a case against David K. Martin, who filed the case. Martin was stopped twice in 2009 by state troopers and accused of multiple gun charges and speeding. He subsequently filed a complaint about racial profiling.

“Go for it,” Franchot said. “Defend the state.”

Settlements in lawsuits rare, says assistant AG

Phillip Pickus, an assistant attorney general, said that the Office of the Attorney General settles on an “extremely small” number of cases.

“Respectfully, I have a backbone and all of my fellow bargainers have a backbone,” Pickus said. He added that the Philadelphia judge dropped the gun charges because they were determined to be unlawful and the Maryland charges were dropped because of an “alleged discovery violation.”

“So we had no room to maneuver to use those gun charges to our advantage,” said Pickus.

On October 12, 2009, Martin, an African-American resident of Philadelphia, was pulled over on I-95 in Cecil County for reckless driving, speeding, following a vehicle too closely, and an unsafe lane change. The stop led to two pat downs — one which discovered Martin’s possession of a 9mm Glock.

He was charged with gun possession and transporting a handgun in a vehicle, charges that were dropped two months later by the Cecil County State’s Attorney.  His girlfriend was in the rented car and he claims to have been taking her home and then planning on immediately heading back to Philadelphia.

The same day that his previous charges were dropped in December, Martin was stopped again by Maryland two state troopers, including Sgt. Christopher Conner who made the initial arrest in October, for speeding but was only issued a warning. In 2010, Martin was arrested by Philadelphia police for failure to relinquish a firearm but he was tried and found not guilty of that charge in 2011.

On April 5, 2011 Martin filed his racial profiling case against two Maryland troopers, including Conner, and claimed that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The case, Martin v. Conner, et al. is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for Maryland.