Officer Not Acting In Course And Scope Of Employment When He Committed Murder

Rodney Price was a Baltimore police officer who learned that his wife and Tristan Little were having an affair. On his way to work one evening, Price encountered his wife and Little outside of Little’s house. After asking Little, “Didn’t I tell you to stay away from my wife?” Price began firing his service weapon at Little, hitting him with five to ten rounds. While Little was on the ground, suffering from his wounds, Price had a brief conversation with his wife, holding her at gunpoint. He then resumed shooting Little, striking him with rounds that brought the total to 17, and killing him. At the time, Price was in his police uniform.

Price pled guilty to first degree murder in the use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. Little’s relatives then sued the City, alleging that it was liable for Price’s actions. All of the governmental bodies sued by Little’s family were dismissed from the lawsuit, leaving Price as the sole defendant. A jury returned a verdict in favor of the family in the amount of $105 million. The Court reduced the verdict to $26,989,000 and entered judgment against Price in that amount.

The relatives then tried to collect against the City, arguing that Price was acting within the course and scope of his employment and was entitled to indemnification from the City under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement governing Baltimore police officers (in exchange for a release from the judgment against him, Price had assigned to the relatives his rights under the collective bargaining agreement).

The Maryland Court of Appeals rejected the relatives’ attempts to collect the judgment. The Court found that “a police officer’s personal acts are outside the scope of employment. Price was not acting pursuant to his duties as a police officer or in any way related to that position when he murdered Little. Instead, his actions were completely personal. His tortious act was precisely the type of highly unusual and quite outrageous acts that fall outside the scope of employment as a matter of law. That Price was wearing his uniform at the time of the shooting and shot Little with his service weapon did not transform an otherwise personal act into one that was furthering his employer’s business.”

Brown v. Mayor and City Council, 2006 WL 435832 (Md.App. 2006).

This article appears in the April 2006 issue