LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Five years after a Louisville woman claimed a former Strathmoor Village police officer attacked her and charged her with crimes she didn't commit, a jury has sided with her and awarded her more than $1 million.
"I think it sends a message out to angry men who are holding positions they shouldn't be in," said Maria DeCamillis Raque, who filed the suit under her previous married name, Maria Arnold. "I stood up to him, and I won."
DeCamillis Raque sued the city of Strathmoor Village and former Officer James Wilder alleging he arrested her without probable cause, battered her, and maliciously prosecuted her for crimes she didn't commit.
In October 2003, DeCamillis Raque said a neighbor, who happened to be the mayor of Kingsley, a small Jefferson County municipality along Bardstown Road, called police to complain about DeCamillis Raque's son and his friends. DeCamillis Raque said the kids were playing hide-and-go seek. When DeCamillis Raque came out of her home to see what happened, she said Wilder approached her.
"I looked at the boys and said, 'Go inside and call your moms' because the day was over, it was time to go," she said. "That made him very angry. He began from that point on to get more angry and furious."
That's when DeCamillis Raque's lawsuit alleges that Wilder grabbed her by the neck and dragged her into the street. Once inside the squad car, the lawsuit alleges Wilder smashed her head against the car's divider and pepper-sprayed her in the face.
"We were scared," she said. "I wasn't under arrest. He'd beaten me up in front of my kids. We were terrified."
Soon, DeCamillis Raque said she was under arrest and charged with felonies, including assault on an officer.
"I was looking at 15 years that could have gone to prison because of this," DeCamillis Raque said. She said Strathmoor Village offered to drop all charges if she agreed not to sue. She refused, and the case went to trial.
On April 26, 2004, a Jefferson County jury acquitted her on all charges. She said it took jurors only four minutes to make their decision. She then sued Wilder and the city of Strathmoor Village and learned this wasn't Wilder's first offense.
"He's been fired from four different police forces," said DeCamillis Raque's attorney, Steve Romines. "He's had more complaints lodged against him than any police officer I've ever seen."
According to court documents, Wilder had been reprimanded for numerous infractions during his career, including excessive force against citizens, insubordination, and for fights with colleagues.
As an officer in West Buechel, records show a citizen filed a civil lawsuit against him for excessive force at a Denny's restaurant. As an officer in Shepherdsville, records show he was written up for "throwing an inmate to the ground." His personnel record from that department shows a fellow officer described his demeanor as "out of control."
"He truly is one of the most dangerous people that I've come across doing this," said Romines.
Romines said Strathmoor Village failed to check into Wilder's background before hiring him.
"He applied to be a police officer at the Louisville Police Department and when they did his background investigation, he didn't pass muster so they didn't hire him," Romines said. "When Strathmoor Village hired him, they did a 15-minute interview in the parking lot, then gave him a badge and a gun."
Romines said the jury wasn't allowed to hear about Wilder's past and made its judgment based on DeCamillis Raque's testimony and the testimony of her children who witnessed the incident. He said the jury's judgement should send a message to law enforcement: "Before you strap a badge and a gun on an individual who's a loose cannon and give him the ability to send people to the penitentiary, you better check out who you're dealing with first," he said.
Maria DeCamillis Raque said the jury's decision has finally vindicated her.
"I feel like now everybody knows I wasn't crazy," she said. "This really did happen, and it's happened to other people, not just me."
Calls to Wilder's attorney and to a city attorney for Strathmoor Village were not returned Thursday. Romines said Wilder is no longer in law enforcement.