Criminal Justice Academy, Wor-Wic Dispute Negligence Claims

SALISBURY — Officials from the police academy at Wor-Wic Community College last week denied any wrongdoing after a pair of recruits filed suit in March alleging negligence and sexual discrimination after allegedly suffering brain injuries during training.

In March, Cynthia Mowery, a candidate for a full-time position with the Elkton Police Department, and Brian Alexander, a seasonal officer with the OCPD who had been offered a full-time position with the department, filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy (ESCJA), Wor-Wic Community College, which hosts the academy, the academy’s director and assistant director and tactical defense instructor Barry Smith. The suit alleges Mowery and Alexander each suffered traumatic brain injuries during the boxing segment of the academy’s tactical defense training that left them with permanent neurological and cognitive deficits and ultimately led to them leaving the academy and abandoning potential law enforcement careers.

According to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court in March, Alexander graduated with an associate degree from community college in May 2017 and took a seasonal officer position with the OCPD. A short time later, Alexander was offered a full-time position with the OCPD and was sent to the ESCJA to complete entry-level training. Near the close of the training, Alexander was required to complete a boxing segment of the defense tactics curriculum, during which he was struck in the head. According to the complaint, Alexander then sat on the mat and lost consciousness.

According to the complaint, at no time did the defense tactics instructor, Smith, or any officials from the ESCJA or Wor-Wic conduct any evaluations of Alexander. Finally, a fellow classmate called 911. EMTs arrived and transported Alexander to Peninsula Regional Medical Center where he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma, or brain bleed. Surgery was performed to relieve the pressure on Alexander’s brain and he regained consciousness, but he allegedly continues to have neurological and cognitive deficits that have ended his potential law enforcement career.

In Mowery’s case, she was hired by the Elkton Police Department and sent to the ESCJA for entry-level training. According to the complaint, Mowery was also required to complete the boxing component of the defense tactics curriculum, which included five practical fight scenarios. The suit alleges in each of the five scenarios, Mowery suffered multiple blows to the head and was told at the end she had failed and that she would have to wait a week before attempting to pass the course again. In the interim, Mowery began to suffer from dizziness, headaches and an inability to sleep, allegedly because of the blows to the head she sustained in the boxing training.

According to the complaint, Mowery ultimately resigned from the academy because of the alleged injuries she sustained in the boxing training. In addition, Mowery alleges in the complain she was a victim of sexual discrimination. The complain alleges Mowery was told by Smith and allegedly others at the outset of the training that she would never make it. The complaint alleges Smith told Mowery and different times, “I’ve seen how you walk across the floor,” and “why don’t you just become a model somewhere,” along with “I’m never going to pass you.”

Through their attorney, Alexander and Mowery filed suit in U.S. District Court in March alleging negligence on the part of Smith, the named administrators, the ESCJA and Wor-Wic Community College. In Mowery’s case, the complaint also alleges sexual discrimination.

However, the defendants in the case last week filed a motion to dismiss the suit, asserting both Mowery and Alexander had entered the rigorous training voluntarily and had each signed waivers releasing the academy and its instructors from any liability. The motion to dismiss asserts the plaintiffs’ complaint is fraught with inaccuracies.

“All defendants vigorously deny any liability in connection with either plaintiffs’ claims,” the motion reads. “Indeed, many of the allegations in this suit are misleading, improperly characterized facts and events and, at least a few, appear to be knowingly false. Prior to undertaking the ESCJA program, including the defense tactics portion thereof, each plaintiff signed a waiver and release of liability form, which comprehensively waived all claims or damages for personal injury in any way related to the ESCJA training activities.”

The memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss the case asserts the waivers signed by the plaintiffs prior to the training were for the express purpose of assumption of risk and that the training purposely rigorous in order to properly prepare the plaintiffs for active law enforcement duty and the dangers associated with it.

“The plaintiffs’ claims are barred as they fit squarely within the matters released by the waiver and for which the plaintiffs assumed the risk,” the memorandum in support reads. “Such claims are, quite clearly, precisely what the waivers were intended to address so that the defendants would be able to ensure that these recruits were properly trained before being returned to their respective police departments for the exceedingly important purpose of protecting themselves, other police officers and the public in general.”

The memorandum also asserts the same plaintiffs now suing because of injuries sustained in the training would likely also sue if they had been passed through the academy and found themselves unprepared in real-life police work.

“What is essential and important is that the ESCJA is that it effectively train recruits for the rigorous and physically dangerous profession of being a police officer,” the memorandum reads. “… recruits with a mindset such as the plaintiffs would not hesitate for a second before suing the defendants for inadequately training them if they passed the course and were later injured on the job.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.