Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

$1B lawsuit filed against county, former official

Family and deliveryman seek damages stemming from shooting by retired officer Keith Washington

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Exactly one year after former homeland security deputy director Keith A. Washington shot two deliverymen at his Accokeek home, his alleged victims filed a lawsuit last week seeking more than $1 billion from Prince George’s County and the former official.

Lawyers for deliveryman Robert White and the parents of deliveryman Brandon Clark, who died days after the shooting, filed the civil suit Jan. 24 in circuit court. The lawsuit claims that Washington and county officials owe damages for suffering caused by the shooting at Washington’s home and police treatment of the family after the incident.

Washington, 46, claims he shot the deliverymen in his home in self-defense. White, 37, said he and Clark, 22, were shot without provocation after an argument over a scratched bedroom set that Washington was exchanging.

Clark died Feb. 2, 2007, without making a statement to police.

The lawsuit lists 14 counts against the defendants, including assault, battery, gross negligence and false imprisonment. White, along with Clark’s mother and father, are seeking $20 million for each person on 12 of the counts, plus another $20 million each in punitive damages. Clark’s parents are also seeking $40 million in damages each for wrongful death and survivor benefits.

It will be up to a judge and jury to determine which counts will be upheld and whether any damages will be awarded.

Washington faces a criminal trial Feb. 11 for the shooting, and another trial in March on assault charges for allegedly pulling a gun on a man who came to his home last spring.

Washington, a former police officer who retired on disability last fall, was appointed deputy director of the county’s homeland security department in 2004. He ran unsuccessfully for County Council in 2006.

He lost his position with homeland security after assault charges were filed from the second gun incident in April.

In the complaint to the court, lawyers described Washington as ‘‘looking for a fight” when their clients arrived Jan. 24, 2007.

The lawsuit alleges that Washington shot the two men as they were leaving the house, after the officer pushed and cursed at them. They also said that Washington, after calling 911 to report the shooting, shot White in the knee as he lay on the floor.

Lawyers for Washington could not be reached for comment.

John Erzen, a county spokesman, said the government would not comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit alleges that county officials should be held to blame for supporting Washington despite a history of excessive force allegations and performance problems. The civil suit refers to a 1996 worker’s compensation claim by Washington where he claimed he was having homicidal thoughts due to work stress from his police job.

‘‘The [county] knew of these conditions and findings ... and nonetheless returned Defendant Washington to the police force, returned his service revolver, returned his badge and authority [and] promoted him through the ranks of the police department,” court documents said.

Lawyers also claim that county police caused harm to the victims by supporting fellow officer Washington in the initial police investigation.

Police allegedly would not allow Clark’s parents, Marilyn Clark of Capitol Heights and Chris Furbush of Lanham, to see their son for a day after the shooting because they considered him a suspect, their attorney wrote in the lawsuit.

The court papers also claim that police filed false reports, tampered with evidence and threatened charges against the two men during the investigation.

Michael Winkelman, a lawyer for Clark and White, declined to give details about allegations in the civil case.

‘‘As discovery moves forward, I think we’ll all learn more about the case,” he said.

E-mail Daniel Valentine at