Man hit in face by officer outside Laurel club files lawsuit

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A videotape that surfaced this week of a man being struck in the face by a Laurel police officer while handcuffed has spawned a $3 million lawsuit and an investigation by the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office.

D'Ante Williams, 27, filed the lawsuit in Prince George’s County Circuit Court this week after he was arrested Sunday during a fight at the Laurel Station Bar and Grill. The county state’s attorney is also reviewing the case to see if criminal charges could be filed against the officer, spokesman John Erzen said.

The lawsuit, filed against both the city of Laurel and the individual officer, accuses the officer of using excessive force during Mr. Williams‘ arrest. Citing a cellphone video of the arrest first reported by WRC-TV (Channel 4), Mr. Williams‘ attorney said his client was struck in the face three times by Officer J. Diaz-Chavarria.

“It doesn’t matter what my client did, you don’t have the right to hit anyone in the face while they are handcuffed,” attorney Jimmy Bell said.

The video shows one officer escorting a handcuffed man when another officer approaches from the other side and strikes the man several times in the face.

Mr. Williams faces second-degree assault and other charges from the night of his arrest. Court documents filed in Prince George’s County District Court, which were written by Officer Diaz-Chavarria, say Mr. Williams and another man were arrested outside the bar early Sunday after assaulting a security officer who had kicked them out of the bar. The officer used pepper spray on the men and was escorting Mr. Williams to a patrol car when he attempted to spit at the officer.

Williams gathered spit in his mouth, pulled his lips together and pointed his mouth towards me,” Officer Diaz-Chavarria wrote in a court documents. “I corrected Williams aim of his spit to avoid officers and bystanders.”

Mr. Bell said he believes the charges against Mr. Williams should be dropped.

Laurel Police Department spokeswoman Carreen Koubek said that an internal investigation into the incident is underway but that Officer Diaz-Chavarria remains on active duty with the department.

Craig Reddix, the bystander who videotaped the incident, said he didn’t know Mr. Williams but thought it was important to let people know what happened.

“I just thought people needed to see it,” he said.

Mr. Reddix, a Laurel resident, declined to further distribute the cell-phone video, stating that he’s now worried he might face retaliation by police for making the video public.

“I’m fearful every time I see a cop,” he said.

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