By Deborah Bailey,
Prince George’s County will pay Rena Ward, mother of Demonte Ward-Blake, a $7.5 million settlement in connection with a 2019 police traffic stop that left Ward-Blake paralyzed in 2019.
At Greenbelt Federal Courthouse on March 31, Rena Ward, along with attorney’s Billy Murphy and Malcolm Ruff, announced the settlement. The award represents Prince George’s County’s second largest police brutality settlement in history, surpassed only by a $20 million settlement on behalf of the family of William H. Greene in 2020.
Ward said she will continue to speak out on behalf of families who have been killed and maimed by police violence, in honor of her son.
“I will never give up the fight,” Ward said emphatically. “I miss my son dearly, but our voices must continue to be heard when things go on like this,” proclaimed Ward.
During the 2019 traffic stop, police requested Ward-Blake exit his vehicle. Officer Bryant Strong, who assisted during the encounter slammed Ward-Blake to the ground, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
Ward-Blake died after sustaining injuries in an unrelated shooting incident in 2021.
Strong was tried on charges related to the injuries Ward-Blake suffered during the traffic stop and was sentenced to one year in jail followed by three years of probation in July 2022.
While awaiting Strong’s trial, the law firm of Murphy, Falcon and Murphy filed a $7.5 million Federal Civil Rights lawsuit in February 2022 on behalf of Rena Ward and Ward-Blake’s estate. The lawsuit charged police with using “excessive and unlawful force in connection with seizing, subduing and/or apprehending” Ward-Blake.
“We filed this lawsuit on behalf of Demonte, because the fundamental problems of policing have not been solved,” said Malcolm Ruff, Ward family attorney.
“Only recently has our state legislature comprehensively begun to address these problems. Lawsuits still remain the most powerful means to compel governmental agencies to act with urgency to implement adequate reform,” Ruff said.
Billy Murphy, chief counsel for Murphy, Falcon and Murphy said change is still needed within the Prince George’s County Police Department.
“We believe it is not anywhere near where it ought to be. We have to make sure the bad cops are eliminated from the department so the good cops can do the right thing,” said Murphy.
“Those changes that we all want as a result of these police brutality cases are in the process of being implemented like ensuring police wear body cameras,” a stipulation Murphy said the County agreed to in earlier negotiations with the firm on behalf of the William Green case.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks issued a statement about the settlement saying “no individual should be harmed when in the custody of a police officer.”
“Since that time, we have rolled out meaningful police reforms within our department, equipped all officers who interface with the public with body-worn cameras, and brought in a reform-minded chief,” Alsobrooks said, referring to county Police Chief Malik Aziz.
Aziz, former Dallas Police Department Deputy Chief, was appointed in 2021 shortly after an unredacted report emerged claiming rampant discrimination and racial profiling within the Prince George’s Police Department.
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