Woman, Berlin Working Toward Settlement Over Police Confrontation

BERLIN – Settlement discussions continue between the Town of Berlin and the local woman confronted by a police officer at Henry Park.

The attorney representing Ronshell Shockley, the woman threatened with arrest for sitting on top of a picnic table at Henry Park, says settlement discussions have been extended to the end of the month.

“I am optimistic that if each side is prepared to compromise we can make a deal,” said Luke Rommel, Shockley’s attorney. “It would certainly be beneficial to all involved to avoid a multi-year federal litigation process.”

The potential lawsuit stems from a June 30 incident at Henry Park that occurred as Shockley and her husband were watching their son’s basketball game. She was sitting on top of a picnic table when she was approached by Lt. Jeffrey Lawson of the Berlin Police Department. He told her she was sitting on the bench wrong and when her husband questioned the officer’s behavior, they were told to leave or be arrested.

Shockley, upset by the incident, grew discouraged when it took her several attempts to file a complaint with the Berlin Police Department regarding Lawson’s behavior.

In October, months after the confrontation with Lawson, she received a letter from Police Chief Arnold Downing advising her that a violation of department policy had occurred and that corrective action had been taken.

Nevertheless Shockley said she was still frustrated by the process. As a result, she had Rommel draft an equal protection complaint. He sent it to town officials in November and advised them that unless a resolution with Shockley was reached he’d be filing the $75,000 suit in U.S. District Court on Jan. 15.

He said Monday that he and the town’s attorney from the Local Government Insurance Trust had decided to continue settlement discussions until the end of the month.

“Both sides have made settlement offers,” he said. “At this point, the two sides are in the process of determining whether they can agree as to the amount.”

Rommel told The Dispatch last month that Shockley was seeking financial compensation from the town as a symbolic gesture. He said the equal protection principle was meant to ensure government treated everyone the same.

“We feel that Ms. Shockley, as a woman of color, may have been treated differently under the circumstances, than, for example, a white woman sitting on a picnic table in a public park,” he said last month. “Regardless of any race-based concerns, we do not believe there were constitutional grounds to require her to leave the park or be arrested, which would likely be a 4th Amendment violation.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.