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Friday, January 16, 2009

Jury: PG Cops used excessive force against reporter

(Updated 17 Jan 2009)
Jury: Cops used excessive force against reporter.
wtop.com, 19 Jan 2009 (Segraves).
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. - A Prince George's County jury has reached a verdict in the case of a reporter who sued the county.

A jury has found Prince George's County Police used excessive force when they detained Channel 7 investigative reporter Andrea McCarren.

In April 2005, police ordered McCarren and her cameraman, Pete Hakel, out of their car at gunpoint during a traffic stop.

McCarren, an award-winning investigative reporter, was working on a tip that Cpl. Danon Ashton, the county police liaison to the Prince George's County Chief Administrator Jacqueline Brown, was driving Brown on personal trips rather than for business.

When Ashton noticed that he was being followed by McCarren and Hakel, he called for back up.

Video of the incident captured by Hakel's camera shows at least seven police officers surrounded McCarren's car, several with their weapons drawn.

There was no other video of the incident, despite an understanding with the U.S Department of Justice that requires Prince George's County police cars to have dashboard-mounted video cameras operating at all times.

McCarren - who stands 5 feet, 4 inches and weighs about 110 pounds - claimed police dislocated her shoulder and tore her rotator cuff when they pulled her arms behind her back. McCarren had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, torn labrum and detached biceps tendon.

Neither she nor her cameraman, Peter Hakel, was ever charged with any violations.

On Friday, a jury awarded McCarren $5,000 -- far less than the $500,000 she was seeking. The two sides had been close to a settlement, but could not come to terms on a confidentiality agreement.

The jury did not find that the officers violated McCarren's rights as a journalist.

Prince George's County spokesman Jim Keary tells WTOP the verdict is a vindication for the county.

"Sadly, Ms. McCarren was trying to grandstand and grab headlines by accusing the county of interfering with her pursuit of a story," Keary says. "The jury solidly said, 'no.'"

The jury "found the stop was proper and did not violate her rights," Keary tells WTOP.

In an email to WTOP, McCarren's attorney Steven Pavsner writes, "The verdict was anything but a vindication. The jury found that the officers who stopped Andrea used excessive force, injured her, and violated her constitutional rights. It's a sad day when the county considers such a stinging rebuke a ''vindication.'''

(Copyright 2009 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Police Used Excessive Force, Civil Jury Says; TV Reporter Awarded $5,000 in Damages for '05 Traffic Stop.
Post, 17 Jan 2009 (Castaneda)
A Prince George's County civil jury determined yesterday that police officers who stopped a television news reporter and ordered her out of her vehicle at gunpoint nearly four years ago used excessive force and awarded her $5,000 in damages.

But the jury of six men and two women also found that the county officers acted appropriately in conducting a "high-risk" stop of Andrea McCarren, a reporter for WJLA-TV (Channel 7).

In her lawsuit, McCarren alleged that police manhandled her in an attempt to intimidate her into dropping a probe into the possible misuse of county government resources. McCarren and her attorneys said she suffered tendon damage to a shoulder when an officer grabbed her right wrist and yanked it behind her back.

McCarren declined to comment on the verdict. One of her attorneys, Steven M. Pavsner, said, "We're pleased the jury recognized the police used excessive force, which is unacceptable." Pavsner said he was disappointed by the modest amount of damages the jurors awarded.

John Erzen, a county spokesman, said of the verdict: "Sadly, Miss McCarren was trying to make headlines and grandstanding on the issue we violated the freedom of the press. On this issue, the jury has solidly said, no, we did not."

The incident occurred the morning of April 15, 2005, when McCarren and her cameraman, Pete Hakel, were following Cpl. Danon Ashton, the police liaison to the county's chief administrative officer, Jacqueline Brown.

According to the lawsuit, McCarren was investigating whether Ashton was serving as Brown's "personal chauffeur" by driving her to dinner parties and on shopping trips and washing her vehicle.

McCarren was driving her personal vehicle, a Toyota Highlander SUV, when she and Hakel, who was in the back seat, began to follow Ashton in a residential area of Bowie.

Ashton picked up Brown from her home, noticed he was being followed and called for help.

In the Cheverly area, county and Cheverly police in marked cars conducted a "felony traffic stop" in which McCarren was ordered out of her vehicle by officers who trained their service weapons on her.

Hakel captured part of the encounter with his camera. The video shows McCarren following police orders to get out of her vehicle and put her hands in the air. At the direction of police, McCarren slowly walks backward and is out of camera range after a few steps.

In all, nine police cars from Prince George's and Cheverly responded. Although most of the squad cars were equipped with video cameras, police said none of them were working that day, Pavsner said.

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