The family of a Prince George’s County, Maryland, man who was paralyzed in a traffic stop in 2019 has reached a multimillion dollar settlement in a police brutality lawsuit.
The $7.5 million payout is the second-largest payout the county has ever made for a police brutality claim, according to the family’s lawyers.
In October 2019, 24-year-old Demonte Ward-Blake was standing in handcuffs next to a squad car when he was slammed face first into the ground by Cpl. Bryant Strong. The resulting injuries left Ward-Blake paralyzed from the neck down.
Strong had argued that Ward-Blake was combative throughout the traffic stop, and was taken down while trying to flee the scene. However, Strong was later charged, and last year, he was sentenced to a year in prison on assault charges.
Prince George’s County has “consistently ignored the extensive use of excessive force by its police officers,” said attorney Malcolm Ruff, of the law firm Murphy Falcon Murphy, which has sued the county repeatedly over the years.
“Prince George’s County government has failed to solve the most important problems in their police department,” Ruff added.
The payout came on the heels of a $20 million settlement the county made with the family of William Green in 2020. Green was shot and killed while detained inside a police car by Michael Owen, who is slated to go on trial later this year after Green’s family balked at a plea deal that almost went through.
That money comes directly out of the county’s general fund.
“They ought to be angry,” said lawyer Billy Murphy, when asked about the amount of money taxpayers have had to pay out over the years. “This is a sad day.”
Rena Ward, Demonte’s mother, also spoke at the news conference, held outside the federal courthouse in Greenbelt, where the family first filed a lawsuit against the county in 2022.
“I miss my son so much. We had a lot of good times,” said Ward. “We need police for protection in our world, so we can live life as human beings … but this has to stop because this is not right.”
“The county has answered its liability in this matter,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a statement.
“As was stated at the time of Mr. Ward-Blake’s initial injury in 2019, no individual should be harmed when in the custody of a police officer. Since that time, we have rolled out meaningful police reforms within our department, equipped all officers who interface with the public with body-worn cameras, and brought in a reform minded chief. Chief Aziz has worked tirelessly to not only change the culture of police and community collaboration, but also support the men and women of the Prince George’s County Police Department who work hard each day to protect and serve our residents.”
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