A federal judge denied a request last week for a new trial in the case of a man killed by a Frederick County Sheriff’s deputy in 2007.
In the opinion, filed in U.S. District Court, Judge William D. Quarles Jr., upheld a jury’s verdict, issued earlier this year, that the deputy did not use excessive force in the death of the 20-year-old Frederick man.
On Jan. 25, a federal jury in Baltimore found that retired Cpl. Rudy Torres, of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, committed assault and battery, but did not use excessive force in the death of Jarrel Gray.
Gray died after being hit twice with a Taser.
Gray’s parents sought $145 million in a civil suit for wrongful death, excessive use of force, and battery on the part of Torres.
Greg Lattimer, an attorney for Gray’s family, filed a motion for a new trial on Feb. 22, arguing that the evidence did not support the jury’s verdict and the that jury’s findings were inconsistent. Lattimer contended that while the jury found Torres did not use excessive force, it determined that he had assaulted or battered Gray.
In a July 11 opinion, Quarles denied the motion, and said “the verdict is not irreconcilably inconsistent” because Torres used force, the Taser, to defend himself and is shielded from liability.
“While the jury did indeed find that Torres assaulted or battered Gray ... it also found he was trying to defend himself, so there’s no inconsistency,” said Daniel Karp, attorney for Torres. Lattimer did not return calls or an email.
The Gray family’s suit initially included Torres, Frederick County government and the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, but the case was split and Torres was the single defendant in the January trial. The decision to split the case allowed Lattimer to pursue the matter separately, claiming that the Sheriff’s Office did not provide proper training and supervision, and that the Taser policy was unconstitutional.
But since Torres was not found liable, Karp said, there is no violation. Karp filed a request for a summary judgement on that claim and the Gray family has 10 days to oppose it.
Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) deferred questions to Karp and said he could not comment.
After the January decision, Lattimer said he could not understand how the 10-person jury could come to the conclusion it did.
“Really you just can’t justify — no matter how many times I go over in my head — what people were thinking when they said it was ok to tase the guy again 23 seconds later,” Lattimer said in January.
He said the racial makeup of the 10-person jury comprised of eight women and two men — eight of them white — “had to be a factor” in the decision.
The incident took place in the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 2007, when Torres responded to the report of a fight on Gresham Court in Frederick. Upon arriving, Torres said he saw three young men on the sidewalk and a woman in a car. When he demanded they show their hands and get down on the ground, two complied. Gray did not, and turned his back to Torres.
He then turned around with his hands in his pants. Torres shot Gray in the chest with a Taser, and he fell to the ground with his hands pinned under him, according to Torres. When he did not show his hands, Torres delivered a second shot.
Witnesses for the Gray family disputed that version of events, and said Gray’s hands were by his side when he went down. The state medical examiner named the cause of death “undetermined” and noted that a Taser had been used.