ANNAPOLIS – The Court of Special Appeals Thursday upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit against several police agencies over the search of a Takoma Park home for stolen University of Maryland property.
The court agreed that the police team, composed of members of two departments, had probable cause to break into Vanton Irving’s apartment to search for her nephew, Devon Hudson.
Irving’s suit named four University of Maryland police officers and three members of the Greenbelt police department.
Hudson was working as a deliveryman for the university, and had been under surveillance by the university police, who were trying to discover where equipment received through forged shipping orders was being sent.
Hudson was convicted of petty theft in Prince George’s County District Court in January 1993, for stealing, among other things, answering machines, calculators, and electronic spellcheckers.
Irving’s suit stemmed from an incident in March 1992, when police broke down the door of her apartment and handcuffed her.
Since Hudson had listed Irving’s home as his residence on university documents, the court held that the police had probable cause to search the apartment.
In court documents, Irving’s lawyer, Matt P. Lavine, decried the police methods used. Lavine noted that the police timed their entry at midnight, wore masks and helmets, and conducted the kind of raid designed to “terrorize the occupants of the residence so … the startled occupants do not move.”
Irving, then 78 years old, stood five feet tall and weighed 100 pounds.
Lavine also contested that the police had reason to use such means to enter the apartment because Devon Hudson was, “at most, involved in the misappropriation of a floor buffer and the theft of various office supplies.”
But the police believed Hudson might be involved in drugs, since some of the items ordered through the university were digital scales, the kind typically used by drug dealers, court documents said.
Hudson had been arrested seven years before the incident for possession of marijuana, and five years before for possession of a weapon.
Lawrence Fletcher-Hill, attorney for the four university police officers, said the court typically “evaluates the cases from the perspective of the officers who have to make difficult decisions.”
Howard J. Schulman, who represented the three Greenbelt officers, could not be reached for comment. Lavine declined to comment. The Court of Special Appeals ruling noted that the university paid for the damage to Irving’s door. -30-