Friday, March 24, 2017

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Upholds Decision Holding Prince George's County Liable for the Actions of an Off-Duty Police Officer

Prince George’s County v. Morales, 230 Md. App. 699, 149 A.3d 741 (2016)

In October 2010, the Omega Psi Phi fraternity at the University of Maryland at College Park held a Halloween party at an off-campus house. As with so many Halloween parties unfortunately, it ended with a physical altercation and a lawsuit.

The fraternity hired Prince George’s County Police Officer Dominique Richardson to provide security at the party. Officer Richardson was assigned to “light duty” at the time due to his recent knee surgery, thus he violated a policy that prevented officers on light duty from performing extra work. An altercation occurred at the Halloween Party in which Officer Richardson admitted that he punched and restrained the aggressive Plaintiff and party-goer Steven Morales.

Plaintiff filed a civil suit against Officer Richardson and Prince George’s County alleging battery, excessive force and vicarious liability. The jury found that the County was liable for the actions Officer Richardson under the theory of respondeat superior, and awarded the Plaintiff $121,141.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the judgment against the County despite the County’s argument on appeal that Officer Richardson was acting outside of the scope of his employment due to his light duty restrictions. The Court disagreed with the County, and based its opinion on Prince George’s County’s “Extra-Duty Policy,” which permits an off-duty officer to take police action when circumstances warrant.  The Court stated that the crowd at the party became “agitated” and Morales became “aggressive,” which permits a police officer to intervene under the “Extra-Duty Policy.” The Court also noted that Officer Richardson was wearing his PGPD badge next to a marked a police cruiser, making Officer Richardson identifiable as a police officer. Evidently, the Court was not concerned with the fact that any other party-goer could have been dressed as a police officer on the night of a Halloween party.

The Court found that the “Extra-Duty Policy” coupled specifically with Plaintiff’s aggression, created sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Officer Richardson was operating within the scope of his duties as the circumstances warranted police action. Thus, the County was found vicariously liable for the actions of Officer Richardson and the judgment was affirmed in favor of the Plaintiff. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

RSRM Welcomes Two New Associates

Rollins, Smalkin, Richards & Mackie, LLC is pleased to announce the addition of two new associates to our team.

Brennan Walter is a 2012 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, and a 2009 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College.  While in law school, Mr. Walter was the Vice Justice of his school’s Phi Alpha Delta chapter.  He also spent time clerking for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office and he served as a Rule 16 Assistant State’s Attorney in Harford County.

Before joining RSRM, Mr. Walter was a trial attorney for a general litigation firm, and he had the opportunity to try a number of District and Circuit Court cases involving both criminal and civil issues.  Mr. Walter's areas of focus include insurance defense and premises liability, and he has experience both defending and prosecuting personal injury claims throughout the State of Maryland.     

Tara McDowell graduated from the University of Baltimore in 2005.  She attended the University of New Mexico for her undergraduate education before obtaining a master's degree in Sociology from the University of Toledo in 2002.  

Ms. McDowell is an experienced litigator and trial attorney.  Prior to joining RSRM, she spent ten years working as in-house counsel for two national insurance carriers where she had the opportunity to gain significant courtroom experience.  Her areas of focus are insurance defense, insurance coverage matters, personal injury, and premises liability.