Man choked and shot by Baltimore police officers wins $2 million judgment on retrial
Clients Muhammad, FenYanga
On August 11, 2014, a civil jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City awarded FenYanga Muhammad $2 million in compensatory damages for malicious prosecution by Baltimore Police Department Officer Donald Muir, Jr. Jones Day represented Mr. Muhammad on appeal of an earlier civil judgment in 2012 and agreed to handle the retrial of his malicious prosecution claim after the Maryland Court of Special Appeals remanded for a new trial.
On February 28, 2007, Mr. Muhammad was shot four times at point-blank range by two Baltimore Police Department officers. The officers alleged that he was selling drugs and, when approached, had first swallowed a bundle of plastic bags containing cocaine and then assaulted one of the officers. Mr. Muhammad was rushed to the hospital where he was shackled to a bed, diapered, and watched around the clock for several days to see if the police could recover any evidence to support their allegations.
Mr. Muhammad was charged with possession of cocaine, and two counts each of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer. The State’s Attorney declined to prosecute the drug charge and some of the other charges. Mr. Muhammad was acquitted on all remaining charges in March 2010.
Mr. Muhammad filed a civil complaint alleging assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment, false light, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violations of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. In January 2011 his claims against the two officers who shot him went to trial. The jury found Officer Muir liable for malicious prosecution and awarded Mr. Muhammad $40,000; the jury found Officer Muir not liable on the remaining claims and found his partner, Officer Hassan Rasheed, not liable on all claims. Both Mr. Muhammad and Officer Muir appealed.
Mr. Muhammad reached out to Jones Day for help with his appeal. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the non-liability verdicts and the trial court’s refusal to allow the jury to consider punitive damages. The appellate court vacated the judgment against Officer Muir for an evidentiary error and remanded for a retrial. The Maryland Court of Appeals denied Mr. Muhammad’s petition for a writ of certiorari.
Jones Day agreed to continue representing Mr. Muhammad on a pro bono basis for his retrial. Despite a limited evidentiary record and the trial court’s refusal to allow additional discovery, a team of Jones Day associates developed a case to prove that Mr. Muhammad had not possessed any drugs on the day of the shooting and that Officer Muir had manufactured a story to insulate himself and his partner from the consequences of shooting an innocent, unarmed man four times.
After a one-week trial, the jury deliberated for less than half-an-hour before returning a unanimous verdict in Mr. Muhammad’s favor and assessing compensatory damages of $2 million.