Baltimore Police Sued For $420,000 Over “Unlawful Arrest” By Don’t Know Tavern Chef, Two Others

January 28, 2011

The Baltimore Police department was sued Monday for $420,000 by three men who allege they were “unlawfully” arrested outside South Baltimore’s Don’t Know Tavern last year. 

The lawsuit, filed with the Circuit Court for Baltimore City January 24, also names two officers, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the Baltimore City Council.

The plaintiffs, which include Don’t Know’s executive chef Chad Novak, seek $210,000, plus $70,000 each in damages.

Baltimore police declined to comment on the lawsuit.

According to the complaint, police officers, including Andre Smith and Stephen J. Sloan, turned up at Don’t Know around 7:50 p.m. in late January of last year to respond to a call.

Novak, a chef at Don’t Know for nearly two years, said in an interview Smith and Sloan were questioning his 13-year-old brother.

When Novak tried to ask if his brother was in trouble, he was brushed off by the officers, he said.

One of the officers, Novak can’t recall which, told him it was none of his business and demanded he step inside the bar.

“I made it ten feet, and I heard officer Smith say, ‘just get him,” Novak recalled.

As Novak was being handcuffed, plaintiff James Kowatch stepped out of the bar and was arrested himself, according to the complaint. The officers told him they were under orders to arrest the next individual to walk out of the bar.

Police then arrested plaintiff Kieron McNelis, who was inside the bar taking pictures of the situation, according to the complaint.

From there the men were taken to central booking, and hours later – Novak said between six and seven – were released without being charged, or an explanation for the arrest. 

In the suit, the plaintiffs say they were arrested “without probable cause” and allege the defendants acted “with malice, ill will and bad intent.”

Baltimore police did not elaborate on the lawsuit, citing standard practice to not comment on pending litigation, said detective Kevin Brown.  He did not know if the officers named in the suit are on active duty. 

Novak and the other two men filed complaints with the Civilian Review Board, the department’s office for dealing with complaints, within weeks of the incident, but he said they were not addressed.

Now, they’re charging the department with 21 counts of unlawful behavior, including false arrest, and damages that total $420,000.

A year ago, when he filed the complaint with the review board, he said he just wanted a formal apology.

A trial date has not been set.

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