- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2012

Two homeowners whose houses were burned in 2004 in one of the largest residential arson fires in Maryland history have reached a settlement with the company that employed the security guards who set the fire.

The terms are confidential but Isabelle Thabault, senior counsel at The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs said the suit was resolved to the satisfaction of the parties.

Five security guards who worked for Security Services of America LLC, hired to guard the under-construction Hunters Brooke development in Charles County, were charged and later convicted or pleaded guilty to a December 6, 2004 arson. According to plea agreements, the arsonists were upset that African-Americans were moving into the county.

The arson destroyed 10 homes and damaged at least 25 others, causing around $3.27 million in damage. The homes were priced at $400,000 to $500,000 each.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in 2005 by The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld on behalf of 32 African-American and other minority residents. The complaint claimed the arson was racially motivated.

Steven Schulman, partner at Akin Gump, said the homeowners wouldn’t have entered into the settlement if it wasn’t satisfactory.

“Of course, it can’t erase the horror of what happened that night,” Mr. Schulman said.

The claims of the 30 other plaintiffs were dismissed by the court on legal grounds because the plaintiffs had not yet moved into their houses when the arson occurred. Ms. Thabault said this decision will be appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The houses were almost complete and many of the plaintiffs were a few weeks from closing on the houses and moving into them.

“We think that was an overly narrow view of the law,” Mr. Schulman said.

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