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Baltimore City police officer could face punitive damages

Testimony ended early yesterday afternoon in the $35 million wrongful death/survivor action against a former Baltimore City police officer who shot a man 21 times, killing him outside his Northeast Baltimore home in March 2001.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy denied defense motions for judgment on the issues of the survivorship action, actual malice and punitive damages.

Are you kidding? Gordy asked when defense counsel argued that the plaintiffs had not offered sufficient evidence of actual malice to put the question to the jury. I’d like to know how shooting someone 21 times does not involve malice.

Gordy sentenced Rodney Price, 36, a 13-year veteran of the city police department, to life in prison in April 2002 for the first- degree murder of Tristin D. Little Sr., 28, whose relatives filed the present action.

Price, represented by Troy A. Priest, is now serving his sentence in Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland and was not present in the courtroom.

Priest, who rested the defense’s case yesterday without putting on a witness, conducted limited cross-examination of those witnesses called by A. Dwight Pettit and Mitchell D. Treger on behalf of Little’s mother, daughter and estate, and by Dominic R. Iamele and Anton L. Iamele, who represent Little’s son, Tristin D. Little Jr., 11.

Dominic Iamele called to the stand Karen Fields, Little’s fiancee at the time he was murdered, and Darlene Simon, the mother of Little’s son.

Fields told the court she had paid nearly $9,000 for Little’s funeral; however, because she is not a party to the action and had no formal agreement to be reimbursed by the estate, the court dismissed the issue of funeral costs from the case on a defense motion.

Testimony given by Simon, never married to Little though for a time a member of his mother’s household, indicated that Little contributed $300 to $400 per month to their child’s maintenance – but not every month – in dollars and shoes on his own.

Pettit called Barbara Ross, the mother of Little’s daughter Britney J. Ross, 14, who testified that though they had never married, Little provided $7,500 to $8,000 per year for his daughter’s maintenance on his own. Little had had no court-ordered child support for either child.

Each lawyer then led his child client through brief testimony. The children have been in court throughout the trial, sitting with their grandmother right behind their lawyers.

Finally, Pettit called Little’s mother, Emma Pearl Brown, 62, a licensed day care provider, who made her way to the witness box on a cane.

Tristin Little Sr. is my baby, Brown told the court, explaining that he was her youngest son, a wonderful father and a wonderful son who called her every day when he was on the road as the driver of an 18-wheel semi tractor trailer.

Pettit showed Mrs. Brown and the jury a series of five enlarged snapshots from the life of her son. The last in the series, a photograph she had taken of her son and grandson together, caused her to break into tears.

Whatever I want, whatever I need, he just come and give it to me, Brown said, telling counsel that she didn’t drive no Cadillac; her son would give her money from time to time in amounts of $200 to $300, she said, adding that among his gifts to her was a diamond ring.

That’s the most precious thing I have, Brown said through her tears.

Gordy sent jurors home at the close of testimony and met with counsel in chambers to hammer out jury instructions and a verdict sheet. Scheduled to hear other matters today, the judge ordered the jury to return mid-morning tomorrow for their instruction, closing arguments and deliberations.

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