Worcester County Out, Ocean City Put In Brutality Suit

OCEAN CITY — Worcester County is out and the town of Ocean City is now in as a defendant in a civil suit filed in July by a Montgomery County man alleging he was roughed up during his arrest and subsequent detention to the point he needed to be flown to Shock Trauma.

In July, Silver Spring resident John Henry, through his attorney, filed suit in U.S. District Court against various OCPD officers and public safety aides, OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro and Worcester County, alleging he was injured when he was thrown into a police transport vehicle and injured further when he was handled roughly at the Public Safety Building for processing and detention. Worcester County was named as a defendant in the original complaint for allegedly being the governmental entity charged with overseeing the OCPD although the county has little or no purview over the department.

Weeks after the original complaint was filed, Worcester County quickly filed a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative a motion for summary judgment, asserting it should be eliminated as a defendant.

“It is apparent from the face of the complaint that Henry fails to recognize the dichotomy between Worcester County and Ocean City,” the county’s motion to dismiss reads. “In light of this framework, and the evidence submitted in support of this motion, it is apparent there is no valid reason why Worcester County should be a party to this action.”

The county’s contention it was wrongly named as a defendant in the excessive force suit did not fall on deaf ears. Last Friday, Henry through his attorney filed a stipulation of dismissal of Worcester County from the suit, and in the same motion added the Mayor and Council of Ocean City as a new defendant.

“Pursuant to his present understanding of the relationship between the Mayor and City Council of Ocean City and defendant Worcester County, the plaintiff has determined that the defendant Worcester County should be dismissed and the Mayor and City Council of Ocean City should be added and is preparing an amended complaint which will exclude the defendant Worcester County,” the stipulation of dismissal reads.

On the same day, Henry’s attorney filed an amended complaint reflecting the addition of the Mayor and Council. The amended complaint is essentially the same as the original with Worcester County redacted and the Mayor and Council of Ocean City inserted in its place.

Like the original document, the amended complaint alleges OCPD officers first encountered Henry on Aug. 4, 2013 near the corner of 9th Street and Edgewater Ave. The OCPD officers met with an admittedly intoxicated Henry and told him to move on. However, the complaint alleges despite following the officers’ orders, he was taken into custody, thrown into a police transport van with excessive force, was not secured with any belt and was subjected to a constant battering to his face and body during his entire trip to the intake facility and holding cell.

According to the complaint, once at the Public Safety Building, Henry was allegedly thrown face first into a cinderblock interior wall in a cell, suffering further injury that ultimately led to his transport to Shock Trauma in Baltimore. It’s important to note the alleged rough handling of prisoners by overzealous police officers has been a recurring theme in recent months in Maryland and across the country.

It’s also important to note, while Henry throughout the complaint maintains he was an innocent victim during the incident, he was ultimately charged with three counts of second-degree assault and resisting arrest. He was convicted of the latter and was sentenced to five days in jail and fined $1,000.

The OCPD officers involved were named as defendants in the federal suit for their individual roles in the alleged rough handling of the plaintiff. Buzzuro was named as a defendant for allegedly failing to train and prepare his officers in the proper handling of an intoxicated prisoner.

The suit alleges civil rights violations including unreasonable search and seizure, excessive force and deprivation of liberty among other things. The suit seeks punitive damages against the named defendants in excess of $75,000 and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000. The complaint alleges the named defendants were negligent.

“The defendants had no adequate training regarding the arrest, investigatory stop or reasonable use of force regarding the detention of an alleged intoxicated individual, despite the fact that Ocean City, Maryland is a well-known vacation spot which promotes, advertises and encourages partying and drinking alcoholic beverages by its tourists at its various business establishments, which results in hundreds of arrests, detentions and seizures annually,” the complaint reads.