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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter4:10 pmMar 29, 20210

A flicked cigarette and a knee to the neck

UPDATED: Baltimore settles an “excessive force” suit, resulting from the arrest by city police of a grandmother at a local gas station

The Board of Estimates is set to pay $45,000 to a 56-year-old woman for injuries sustained after she was thrown to the ground and handcuffed by police who were investigating juveniles smoking marijuana at a gas station in West Baltimore.

Theresa R. Rouse had filed a civil lawsuit alleging false arrest, excessive force and violation of her civil rights arising from the May 7, 2016 noontime incident at a BP gas station at Monroe Street and Lafayette Avenue.

The plaintiff’s 13-year-old grandson was among those detained by police who had a standing request from the gas station’s owner to remove loiterers. (According to police, “over 200 calls for service related to violence, crime and illegal drug activity” had been recorded at the site since January 1, 2016.)

While the youths were being detained, Rouse, who lived nearby, approached Officers Chris Florio and John Romeo, “yelling that she was the grandmother of one of the detainees,” according to the BOE agenda.

The sergeant on duty called one of the children’s mothers, who said Rouse was not his grandmother but was dating the boy’s grandfather.

Meanwhile, a young man – who proved to be Rouse’s actual grandson – had fled from the gas station and was captured by police in a nearby alley.

3/31 UPDATE: In approving today’s award, the BOE was told that Officer Florio was cleared by BPD’s Internal Affairs Division of any mishandling of the Rouse arrest.

Neither he nor other police at the scene – identified in court records as Officers Anthony Ward, John Romeo, John Rosenblatt and Sergeants Michael Brinn and Billy Shiflett – faced disciplinary action.

A Rough Arrest

After Rouse learned of her grandson’s detention, she returned to the gas station and, getting into another loud exchange with the officers, “flicked a lit cigarette” in the direction of Florio.

The officer responded by pushing Rouse to the ground, placing his knee against her neck and back, and pulling her hands behind her body to handcuff her while she lay on her stomach. (Cellphone footage of the arrest was taken by an onlooker.)

Florio and a second officer, John Rosenblatt, then carried Rouse by her hands and feet to a police car. When she did not fully fit into the car, the officers lifted her to the gas station curb and sat her down.

Rouse slumped to her side, saying she was in pain and needed to go to the hospital.

After she was released from the hospital, Rouse was charged with second-degree assault, possession of a dangerous weapon (the lit cigarette) with intent to injure, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment.

All of the charges were later dismissed.

No Qualified Immunity

In allowing Rouse’s lawsuit to proceed in federal court, U.S. District Court Judge George L. Russell III said Officer Florio was not entitled to limited immunity because it was an open question whether he used excessive force in arresting Rouse.

“Rouse was agitated and did not promptly follow all orders,” Russell wrote, “but she had no made physical contact with the officers or anyone else at the scene, or threatened to.”

The judge also noted that “she was considerably smaller than [Florio], who had no reason to believe that she was armed or especially dangerous.” Nor was there any evidence that she had resisted arrest.

“The Court therefore concludes there is a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the force Officer Florio used to subdue Rouse was excessive,” Russell concluded.

Based on his ruling, the city faced a jury trial that could result in damages far greater than the $45,000 that is expected to be approved on Wednesday by Mayor Brandon Scott and the rest of the BOE.

• FOR MORE: Judge Russell’s opinion to let Rouse v. Florio proceed in federal court.

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