MD Federal Jury Finds P.G. County Police Failed To Protect Whistleblower Officer

A federal civil jury in Maryland found that a former Prince George’s County police lieutenant battered and falsely imprisoned a former woman officer and that county police commanders failed to protect her when other members of the police force retaliated against her for coming forward by scheming to ignore her calls for backup and spreading false rumors about her.

In U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, the jury Wednesday awarded former county police officer Kara McMurray $200,000 from the county and $185,00 from the former lieutenant, Richard Tallant.

U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte will schedule a separate hearing to determine the amount of economic damages McMurray is entitled to, said Terrell N. Roberts III, one of McMurray’s attorneys. At issue will be what rank McMurray would have attained if she had remained with the county police department and retired from there, rather than leaving prematurely.

“The amount will be significant,” Roberts said.

“I’m happy,” McMurray said a few hours after the Wednesday afternoon verdict. “My name has been dragged through the mud for years, they’ve been saying this was all in my mind. The jury verdict is a total vindication of me.”

The attorneys for Tallant and for the county did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After deliberating over all or parts of three days, the jury found that Tallant committed battery against McMurray, deprived her of her liberty, and violated her rights under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

The jury found that Prince George’s County violated McMurray’s First Amendment rights, and that the county was deliberately indifferent to a police custom or practice by which a member of the Police Department who reported another officer for misconduct was subject to blackballing, which included ostracizing and shunning. Blackballing also entailed hostile comments made by other officers, the jury found. The jury determined that this treatment created a reasonable fear in McMurray that she would not be backed up while on patrol.

The jury found that McMurray – who left the department in 2021 – was effectively forced out of the police force, and that she was subjected to retaliation from the police department.

Attorneys for Kara McMurray, Christopher A. Griffith (l) and Terrell N. Roberts III. (Courtesy photo)

Some of the key evidence showing county police retaliation was contained in text messages between county police officers – including supervisors – in which they joked about using force on suspects and discussed not backing up officers who reported misconduct by fellow cops, whom they viewed as “snitches.”

A key exchange occurred on Dec. 17, 2020, between former county police Sgt. James Seger, former Capt. Jeremy Bull, former Lt. Edward Scott Finn, and former Cpl. Daryl Wormuth.

In the text thread, Wormuth complained about two fellow officers who had reported him for grabbing a teenager by the neck.

“Fuck ass bitches,” Wormuth wrote. “Let them tell it, absolutely.”

Screenshot of texts

“Wow, didn’t know that was the same squad (as McMurray’s squad),” Seger wrote.

“Yup,” Wormuth replied.

“I would never back them up. U heard it here,” Seger wrote.

Wormuth responded with a barnyard epithet, then added that Finn and another officer had been questioned because police supervisors heard their team “wasn’t going to.”

“Well, that means someone was doing more talking than they should have been,” Bull wrote. “You speak on it you just do it.”

“Yup,” Wormuth wrote.

“Exactly,” Finn responded.

“I told them all just do it. Don’t say it,” Finn expanded.

During the trial, Finn – dressed in prison garb – was called to the stand by Roberts. Finn testified that he never encouraged any officers to not provide backup to other officers.

In May 2023, a Prince George’s County Circuit Court Judge found Wormuth guilty of second-degree assault and misconduct in office for grabbing the teenager by the neck. Wormuth contended the boy matched the description of someone who had fled an arrest and was possibly armed, but the youth was not involved with that incident.

The same month, a federal judge in Greenbelt sentenced Finn to 16 months in prison and two years of supervised release for tax evasion. The judge also ordered Finn to pay $367,765 in restitution to the federal government.

Finn pleaded guilty to underreporting more than $1.3 million in income from his private security firm – which employed many fellow county officers – on his income tax returns from 2014 through 2019. Finn created false business expenses to lower his tax bill by writing checks to relatives and friends for purported services, according to federal authorities.

Finn used funds from his business to make personal purchases, including a boat and a car.

Before he ran afoul of the Internal Revenue Service, Finn was accused multiple times of excessive force without being disciplined by the police department, according to a report in the Washington Post. In 1999, Finn was promoted and won a $2,300 raise while he was still under internal investigation for excessive force, for lying to the department, and for shooting an unarmed man, according to the Post.

The same year, in September, Finn was one of the first officers to respond to a domestic disturbance call involving a man named Elmer C. Newman. Officers say they arrested Newman because he attacked officers.

Newman died in a police jail cell. Police claimed his injuries were self-inflicted and maintained they did not use excessive force. The state medical examiner found that officers had broken two bones in Newman’s neck, broken two of his ribs and caused other injuries, according to the Post.

Internal affairs again investigated and exonerated Finn.

McMurray’s lawsuit stems events that occurred during the post-midnight hours of Feb. 10, 2017. McMurray, then a patrol officer, joined fellow officers to socialize and drink alcoholic beverages at the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 in Upper Marlboro. Tallant was drinking at the lodge too, in his police uniform. The lodge closed at 2 a.m., and officers continued to socialize in the parking lot.

Around 4 a.m., four officers, including McMurray and Tallant, drove to a nearby filling station. McMurray needed to relive herself. One fellow officer said the gas station’s bathrooms were unusable, and suggested she go into nearby woods, which was on FOP property.

McMurray went into the wooded area, and shortly thereafter, Tallant followed her, saying he too had to relieve himself.

As McMurray began to talk back to the gas station, Tallant blindsided her and they both fell to the ground. As Tallant kissed her, a shocked McMurray verbally protested and tried to get him off her, but couldn’t, according to the lawsuit and court testimony. Tallant held her down, thrust his hand down her trousers and digitally penetrated her vagina.

She told Tallant the two other officers were on their way, and when Tallant turned to look, McMurray was able to slip away. The two officers arrived and saw an upset McMurray crying.

In December 2020, a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge found Tallant guilty of sexually assaulting McMurray and sentenced him to seven years in prison. Numerous county police officers attended the trial in uniform to support Tallant.

A judge granted Tallant a new trial in March 2023 after his attorneys argued that prosecutors had withheld evidence. Tallant was released and is on home detention.

After McMurray reported the assault in 2019, police supervisors moved her to the evidence unit, though she wanted to remain a street officer or work in a specialized unit.

The possibility that fellow officers would not back her up made it too dangerous for her to remain a county police officer and harassment from fellow officers made it impossible for her to continue as a county police officer, McMurray said in an interview, so she left the force in December 2021.

McMurray had aspired to be a police officer since she was a girl, joined a police Explorers program as a teen and applied to join the police department a week or so before she turned 21.

“It was the hardest decision I ever made,” McMurray said. “They wouldn’t do anything to protect me.” She now works as a security guard.

The county police department has a long history of abuse and misconduct.

*In 1999, the FBI launched an investigation into whether the county police department’s canine unit engaged in a pattern and practice of using their police dogs to brutalize people.

*In 2000, the Justice Department opened a top-to-bottom civil rights investigation into the Prince George’s County police department.

*In July 2001, the county agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a civil lawsuit filed by Jeffrey Gilbert, who in 1995 was badly beaten by a team of county police officers who suspected he had fatally shot John C. Novabilski, a fellow officer. Shortly after the beating, investigators found evidence showing Gilbert had nothing to do with the Novabilski shooting.

*In 2001, a federal jury convicted former county canine officer Stephanie C. Mohr of a civil rights violation for releasing her police dog on an unarmed, unresisting Latino immigrant. The judge sentenced Mohr to 10 years. In January 2021, in the waning days of his term, then-President Donald J. Trump pardoned Mohr, who had already served her sentence.

*In 2018, a group of Black and Latino officers filed a lawsuit against the county police department, accusing it of systemic racism on matters such as discipline and promotions.