PRINCESS ANNE — It was after 11 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 when Princess Anne Police Officer Chad Savage and Sgt. Rob Smith responded to a residence in the 11500 block of Church Street for a report of a domestic assault in progress.
During the incident Don M. Hanna, now age 63, was alleged to have thrown an empty box at the complainant, and when being placed under arrest taken to the ground — receiving injuries that were ultimately treated at Shock Trauma in Baltimore.
Hanna was subsequently charged with second degree assault and resisting arrest.
In Somerset County District Court on Aug. 24, 2020 Hanna pled not guilty and was found not guilty of both charges by visiting Baltimore County Judge Philip N. Tirabassi.
Now both police officers, who are white, and the PAPD are named in a federal civil rights lawsuit that in part alleges they used excessive force, battered, falsely arrested and falsely imprisoned Hanna, a Black man, and then subjected him to malicious prosecution.
During a press conference Sept. 8 in the parking lot of Town Hall to announce the lawsuit defense attorney Malcolm Ruff said the trial court judge, according to the transcript, said, “There was no reason for Officer Savage to have taken Mr. Hanna to the ground.”
“This entire incident is on body camera,” Mr. Ruff said, and “Don was the victim of police brutality.” He was “slammed to the ground and his jaw was broken,” with teeth also being damaged as well as nerve damage to his brain, and soft tissue damage to his neck and back.
“These officers treated Don like an animal on the streets, instead of deescalating the situation,” Ruff said, despite the PAPD finding reasonable force was used during its review of the case.
Hanna said he is no longer the person he used to be because of this event. “I’m traumatized, I’m hurt, physically hurt and mentally hurt.” He added that he no longer wants to go out at night, “scared that the police are going to come and attack me.”
“I want them to be accountable for what they did to me.”
“Police brutality anywhere will not go unaddressed, we will hold the Town of Princess Anne accountable for what happened to this gentleman,” Ruff said. “When the evidence is clear that a violation of someone’s civil rights has happened, the supervisory powers in those departments need to stand up, and that’s what this department failed to do, which has forced us to file this federal civil rights lawsuit.”
Ruff said attempts were made to speak with the town about this, but, “we have heard nothing.” He said the lawsuit includes a “Monell” Claim, which can find the town liable for the actions of its officers.
“We are asking the town to take account of what their duties and responsibilities are,” and how it allowed “a lack of training” for these officers. “This needs to be addressed, this needs to be fixed.”
Town Manager Clayton Anderson said the town had no comment, and had not seen the complaint. Also former Chief Tim Bozman, who is named to be served with the complaint, had no comment. He has since retired from the PAPD and was succeeded by Chief Robert Wink.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial with an outcome to award “in excess of $1 million in compensatory damages, plus costs and interest,” including reimbursement for plaintiff’s expenses related to this case, and punitive damages where applicable.
“This is not something we take lightly,” Ruff said.
The case has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Matthew J. Maddox. Ruff said the town could file a motion to dismiss or answer the charges, which then Ruff said would start discovery and the taking of depositions of the two officers.
“Black lives matter, this Black life matters, and we are going to make it very clear to the Town of Princess Anne that that life needs to be honored and respected,” Ruff said.
“There needs to be compensation provided to this gentleman not only for the physical pain he’s experienced but also for the mental…and emotional pain, humiliation and embarrassment of being thrown in the street like a dog.”
Ruff said Hanna is not fully healed from his injuries, and needs additional surgeries and replacement teeth. “He is still recovering.” “This was not a run of the mill act of brutality. This was a traumatic incident.”
Ruff said his contact with the town was through its attorney Paul Wilber and not through counsel with the Local Government Insurance Trust (LGIT) although it is aware of the case. Ruff is an attorney with the Baltimore law firm Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, whose lead partner Billy Murphy in 2015 represented the family of Freddie Gray and settled a wrongful death case against Baltimore City for $6.4 million.