Jacai Colson’s family settles the lawsuit in fatal shooting of the undercover officer

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The family of Jacai Colson, a 28-year-old undercover detective who was killed in 2016 by a fellow police officer, announced Wednesday that they have settled their wrongful death lawsuit against Prince George’s County for $400,000.

The alleged lawsuit that the officer who shot Colson showed “reckless disregard for human life” during a gun battle in front of Prince George’s County police headquarters, where both men responded after reports of an ambush. Police and prosecutors said that the officer, Taylor Krauss, mistook Colson as a suspect during the shooting that March 16 and fired.

“Six years, six long years we have been waiting,” said Colson’s mother, Sheila Colson, at a news conference. “No amount of money — no amount of money — is worth the life of my son.”

Family of officer killed by friendly fire during police ambush files lawsuit in Md.

Colson’s family and attorneys have long been critical of how county and police leaders handled the investigation into their son’s death, including what they say is prosecutors’ failure to convince a grand jury to indict Krauss on criminal charges.

They’ve also contended that race was a factor. Colson and the three suspects in the shootout were Black. Krauss is White. At the sentencing for the man who opened fire at the police station, Colson’s mother said her son was killed because he was Black.

“There is no way to separate race from this case,” Malcolm Ruff, a civil rights attorney representing the Colson family, said during the news conference. Though their suit did not imply there was malice on Krauss’s part, it did allege that inadequate training for Prince George’s officers and a culture of permitting force could have contributed to the alleged recklessness.

“There is a police problem in Prince George’s County,” Ruff said. “It is a pattern and practice that has been occurring for decades.”

The settlement in the Colsons’ civil suit was capped at $400,000, the maximum amount a claimant in Maryland can receive in damages from a government in state court.

The announcement came one week after a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge found a different county officer, Cpl. Bryant Strong, guilty of misdemeanor assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office over a traffic stop that left a man paralyzed. The man’s family has filed a federal civil lawsuit in that case.

The county has shelled out millions of dollars in recent years for civil litigation related to the police department. In 2020, the county paid $20 million to the family of William Green, who was handcuffed behind his back and sitting in a police cruiser when he was shot six times and killed by Prince George’s officer Michael A. Owen Jr. Last year, after a years-long legal battle in federal court, the county paid a group of Black and Latino officers $2.3 million after they allegedly experienced workplace discrimination and retaliation. That settlement, however, came after the county had spent more than $24 million on the legal fight.

County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) was the state’s attorney during the investigation into Colson’s death. Her communications director, Gina Ford, said in a statement Wednesday that the county has worked to improve the police department over the last two years through “meaningful reforms,” including appointing a reform-oriented police chief. Ford called the 2016 shootout “painful to the Colson family and members of the Prince George’s County Police Department.”

“While the County has disputed many of the claims in this lawsuit,” Ford continued, “our prayers and prayers continue to be with the family members and friends of Corporal Jacai Colson.”

In a separate statement, the police department called March 13, 2016, a “tragic day for our agency, our community, [Detective Colson’s] family and for everyone whose life he touched.”

“We will always remember his act of heroism and his ultimate sacrifice,” the department said.

The day of the shootout, Colson and other police officers swarmed the police station on Barlowe Road in Palmer Park, Md., after a man described over 911 calls as heavyset with dreadlocks opened fire on the police station, passing cars and officers. His two brothers recorded video on their cellphones of the shooting.

Colson, who was dressed in street clothes, got out of a car and fired 11 times at the suspect — later identified as Michael Deandre Ford — before he fell to the ground in the middle of Barlowe Road. Other officers disarmed and detained Ford while Colson ran to safety at a community center on the same street.

Krauss, who was in the police station parking lot, fired at Colson twice through a wooden fence and missed before firing a third time, fatally striking his fellow officer in the chest.

The civil lawsuit alleges that Colson had his badge in his hand and was shouting “Police! Police!” before he was killed.

Funeral for Pr. George’s officer killed in ambush draws thousands

Krauss, who couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday, later tested in Ford’s criminal trial that he did not hear Colson announce himself as an officer and did not realize he had shot his colleague until it was too late. He said he had worked with Colson in the narcotics division for seven months, that their desks were side by side and that they had socialized.

Krauss’ testimony in the 2018 trial was emotional, both for him and other officers in the courtroom, and he left the department two years later. He was cleared by a grand jury in the shooting.

Ford was convicted of second-degree murder in Colson’s death, even though he did not shoot him. Prosecutors argued that Ford’s attack on the police department started a chain of events that ultimately caused Colson’s killing.

‘Had I known it was a police officer, I never would have taken a shot’

Ford was fulfilled to 195 years in prison.

Colson’s family announced the settlement in their civil case right outside the community center on Barlowe Road, where the young officer had run seeking safety.

That day, Sheila Colson said, will be “embedded in my heart for the rest of my life.”

“I will never, never get over it,” she said.

She and her husband expressed frustration with Alsobrooks and former police chief Hank Stawinski, whom they accused of not being “forthright” with evidence about the shootout. And while they take some solace in the settlement, which means they won’t be forced to relive that day during a civil trial, the Colsons said they still hope for further accountability.

“By no means is the Colson family finished,” James Colson said. “You best believe we aren’t going nowhere.”

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