There has been much discussion in recent years about use of excessive force by police officers, in the performance of their often difficult duties. The Courts have made it clear that when making an arrest a police officer is entitled to take reasonable measures to make the arrest in a manner that protects both the public and the police. What evidence may be admissible in a case alleging that an officer acted unreasonably in using force while making an arrest was explored by Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a recent case called Wesley Cagle v. State of Maryland.
The appellate Court’s opinion indicates that four police officers responded to a silent alarm in a convenience store. Two officers spotted a suspect exiting the building, and when they believed he was reaching for a weapon opened fire upon him. Ten to twenty seconds later, Officer Cagle stepped between those offices and the suspect who was lying on the ground, and had a conversation with him. The suspect claimed that Cagle cursed him and shot him in the groin, while Cagle testified that he saw the suspect pull his hands from his jacket with a silver object and his use of force was justified. A jury acquitted Cagle of attempted murder but convicted him of assault and use of a firearm during a felony.
The Court addressed a number of evidentiary issues that came up during the trial. The defense sought to introduce a public statement by the State’s Attorney announcing the officer’s prosecution in which she said that three of the four involved officer’s had acted properly. The trial court was held to have properly excluded that statement, which was made after an investigation and was not based on personal knowledge.
The defense also called an expert witness in police tactics and shootings, who testified that the shooting was justified. The appellate court upheld the trial judge’s rulings that it was proper cross-examination to bring out that the witness during nineteen years on a police shooting board had only ever found one police shooting to be unjustified, and in over 300 cases as an expert had never testified for the prosecution. When the defendant testified that he had received awards for distinguished service as a police officer, the trial Court was found to have properly ruled that he had put his character in evidence and opened the door to questions about whether a police unit to which had previously been assigned were known as “cowboys.”
The appellate Court also found that there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s assault and firearms conviction of the defendant officer.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.