Prince George’s Co. faces $75 million civil rights lawsuit

Attorneys Malcolm Ruff (at podium) and Billy Murphy (right) are representing the family of Demonte Ward-Blake in their $75 million civil rights lawsuit against Prince George’s County. (WTOP/John Domen)

The family of a man who was paralyzed during a 2019 arrest is suing Prince George’s County for $75 million, alleging systemic federal civil rights violations “as far back as any of us remember and further back than that.”

Demonte Ward-Blake’s family has retained the services of Murphy, Falcon, and Murphy, a Baltimore-based firm whose clients have included the families of Freddie Gray and Jordan McNair.

“These allegations paint a tragic picture,” said attorney Billy Murphy. “Over the course of numerous leadership cycles, the Prince George’s County government has failed to solve the most important problems in their Police Department because they simply do not care enough to protect the rights of its citizens.”

Following the arrest — which attorney Malcolm Ruff said severed vertebrae in Ward-Blake’s back — the department said Ward-Blake was taken down by police after he started fighting back. In particular, it was alleged Ward-Blake tried to elbow an officer in the head.

Cpl. Bryant Strong was later indicted on assault charges. He’ll go on trial in May, and Murphy said he expects the county’s story to change substantially when that happens.

“He took him by the back of his hands when they were handcuffed behind his back and just threw him with tremendous force to the ground head-first,” said Murphy. “That caused all these catastrophic injuries.

“The sidewalk is usually not your friend, and he hit that sidewalk head-first and face-first, and he suffered tremendous damage to his spine that could only have been caused by an excessive amount of force. Not somebody running away, who slipped and fell. No, that wasn’t enough force.”

The lawsuit also names Strong as a defendant, and Murphy said a department-wide use-of-force investigation conducted by the department will name him as one of the top 10 to 20 most-aggressive officers in terms of the number of use-of-force reports he filed. Murphy said that a small group of officers accounts for a disproportionate number of use-of-force reports.

“This has got to stop some way, somehow,” said Rena Ward, Ward-Blake’s mother. “It’s ridiculous. He did not deserve this.”

Given a chance to respond, a spokeswoman for County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said the county does not comment on pending litigation.

Ward-Blake was in a wheelchair for over 600 days before he died last year from injuries suffered in a separate shooting that occurred in November 2020. He was shot three times that day.

The family’s attorneys said the injuries that occurred in 2019 contributed to his death because they diminished his health and made it harder for him to survive the shooting.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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