A Prince George’s County jury this morning awarded $1.19 million in damages in a case where a Maryland state trooper pulled over a Prince George’s county police lieutenant for talking on her cell phone, arrested her, and filed false charges against her.
On May 15, 2019, Trooper Shareef Lewis of the Prince Frederick Barracks of the Maryland State Police pulled over Prince George’s County Police Lt. Alita Gaskill in National Harbor for speaking on her cell phone without using Bluetooth. Maryland law permits police officers to speak on their cellphones for police matters. Trooper Lewis was off-duty and outside of his regular patrol area in Calvert County.
In a lawsuit filed in the Circuit Court, Lt. Gaskill alleged that Trooper Lewis wrongfully arrested her, used excessive force, and filed false criminal charges against her, including failure to obey a lawful order and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed by the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office. Lt. Gaskill retired from the County police department in 2020 after 25 years of service.
The jury this morning found Trooper Lewis and the State of Maryland liable for violations of Lt. Gaskill’s state constitutional rights, and it found Trooper Lewis liable for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and gross negligence. The jury awarded Lt. Gaskill $215,000 for compensatory damages and $975,000 in punitive damages, for a total verdict of $1.19 million. The case was tried before Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge Dwight D. Jackson.
Trooper Lewis and the State of Maryland were represented by the Office of the Maryland Attorney General. Retired Lt. Gaskill was represented by attorneys Timothy F. Maloney and Matthew M. Bryant of the firm of Joseph, Greenwald and Laake, PA in Greenbelt.
“Lt. Gaskill feels vindicated by today’s verdict,” said Maloney. “This was a trooper out of control and he testified that he would do it again. During this same time period, in 2019, he also ripped out another driver’s window in a traffic stop in Calvert County in a widely publicized video1. But just like this case, the State Police took no action. Today’s jury verdict sends a strong message that the Maryland State Police need to get their house in order.”