- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Prince George’s County police paid $1.95 million in settlements and court judgments in the past fiscal year to cover lawsuits filed against the department, according to figures released yesterday by the county executive’s office.

For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the county settled 36 lawsuits against county police for officer misconduct and other infractions at a cost of $1.45 million. Court judgments in four cases forced the county to pay $493,890 in penalties and attorney fees.

This is the second year that County Executive Jack B. Johnson has released the lawsuit figures for the police department, which faces an ongoing police brutality probe by the U.S. Justice Department.

Last January, Mr. Johnson said the county paid $7.9 million during the 2001 and 2002 fiscal years, which included 63 settlements and 12 jury verdicts.

State law requires the county to release the amount and number of tort claim settlements it reaches each year over police conduct. In the past two years, Mr. Johnson has included the jury verdict figures.

“The reason for releasing this is to let the public know how much it has cost them,” Johnson spokesman Jim Keary said. “Anything above a dollar is too much.”

The county police department has been the target of numerous lawsuits over the past several years stemming from charges of brutality. Federal prosecutors, now in the fourth year of their probe, are trying to determine if there is a pattern of misconduct.

The county’s former top prosecutor, Mr. Johnson took office in December 2002 after pledging during his campaign to reform the police department. He brought in a new police chief, Melvin C. High, who reorganized the department this fall after an internal review found poor leadership and lax discipline.

Mr. Keary said it is too early to use the settlement figures as a means of judging Mr. Johnson’s police-reform efforts. About half of the fiscal 2003 figures cover the term of his predecessor, Wayne K. Curry.

The payments include $200,000 paid to the mother of a man fatally shot by a police officer in Lanham Hills in 1999. Marion Gray-Hopkins had sought $180 million from the county for the death of her son, Gary Hopkins Jr., but accepted the settlement in May.

There are several large lawsuits still pending, such as a $40 million lawsuit filed by relatives of Prince Jones, a Howard University student killed Sept. 1, 2000, by an undercover Prince George’s police officer in Northern Virginia.

The officer, who mistakenly thought Mr. Jones was a drug dealer, has been cleared by prosecutors and an internal police investigation.

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