Deaf man paid $200k in police brutality suit

The figure is the largest settlement locally in at least four years

By Scott Daugherty
The Capital

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The county has paid a deaf man $200,000 to settle a police brutality lawsuit.

The payout figure — released to The Capital last week after a request under the state's Public Information Act — represents the largest such settlement by the county in at least four years. Most brutality and false arrest claims filed against the county Police Department in recent years have resulted in settlements of no more than $25,000.

Despite the size of the settlement, the check came with no apology for Stephen Pyles of Pasadena.

And the officers involved in the April 16, 2008, incident — Cpl. Louis Facciponti and Cpl. Steven James — remain on the force, officials said.

"Under the circumstances, the decision was made that (a settlement) was the most prudent way to dispose of the claim," said County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson, declining further comment.

Justin Mulcahy, a spokesman for the county Police Department, also declined to comment.

The president of the union that represents Facciponti and James blasted the county for settling the lawsuit. He said the county would have prevailed if the case went to trial.

"I would like to see our Office of Law take a stand against frivolous lawsuits rather than 'dispose of' them with cash awards," Cpl. O'Brien Atkinson, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 70, said in an email.

Joseph S. Mack, Pyles' attorney, declined to comment about the lawsuit — citing a confidentiality agreement.

The incident
According to police and the 10-page lawsuit, Pyles used a TTY telephone at about 6 a.m. to report a burglary at his home on Colony Road. Facciponti and James responded.

Pyles met the officers outside, mimed that he was deaf and pointed to a broken window.

Inside the house, Pyles and the officers used a notepad to trade several handwritten notes.

What happens next is in dispute.

Facciponti claimed Pyles punched him in the chest for no reason.

Pyles, however, claimed Facciponti grabbed him without warning and wrestled him to the ground. He said James stood by as Facciponti handcuffed his hands behind his back.

Shortly before the incident, Pyles had undergone neck surgery. Despite multiple requests from Pyles' family members, Facciponti refused to handcuff the deaf man's hands in front to make him more comfortable and to allow him to communicate, the lawsuit said.

Paramedics examined Pyles and took him to Baltimore Washington Medical Center in Glen Burnie to be checked by a doctor. He was treated and released.

Police charged Pyles at the time with second-degree assault and resisting arrest. Ten months later, prosecutors dropped all charges.

According to prosecutors, an emergency medical technician employed by the county came forward to say she witnessed the incident and that Pyles merely placed a note on Facciponti's chest in an attempt to get his attention.

"Much of the incident appears to be a matter of perception," Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokesman for the State's Attorney Office, said at the time.

The lawsuit named as defendants the county, Facciponti, James and county Police Chief James Teare Sr.

Without providing specifics, the lawsuit claimed other people previously had complained to the department about Facciponti and James.

The county's Self-Insurance Fund Committee signed off on the settlement last June, Hodgson said. The committee includes the county attorney and the county's chief administrative officer, finance director and central services officer.

Copyright 2011 Capital Gazette Communications, Inc.

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