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There's more legal trouble in federal court for Queen Anne's County. Court records show another multi-million dollar lawsuit with ties to the sheriff's office has been filed. In this case the claims are related to the actions of a former deputy.
The case was filed in March by Traee Lee, of Grasonville. He claims in the lawsuit he was wrongly arrested, prosecuted and jailed for a crime he didn't commit. Lee blames a former deputy and the county itself. He's asking for more than $100-million for what his attorney calls the violation of his civil rights.
According to court records Lee was held for more than 40 days after being arrested and convicted in a case that started as traffic stop in Queen Anne's County back in 2010. The case centered on the testimony of former Deputy Vernell Johnson, who is no longer with the sheriff's office.
Lee claims in the lawsuit that Johnson lied and records show evidence helped prove his case. Court documents show the charges were dropped and Lee released after the Queen Anne's County State's Attorney's Office found dash cam video that was "contrary to what the officer testified to in his police report".
Captain Brian Smith, a senior commander with the sheriff's office, couldn't comment on specifics of the case, saying he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit. But he indicated Johnson separated from the department shortly after the incident involving Lee. Smith says Johnson only worked for the sheriff's office for a short time.
Johnson is named in the lawsuit along with Queen Anne's County. At present, the sheriff's office is not named as a defendant, but Lee's attorney, Cary Hansel, tells ABC2 they will be added to the lawsuit.
Their case claims the sheriff's office encourages deputies to engage in misconduct, referencing another recent multi-million dollar case against the department. That civil case filed last year involves former deputy Kristy Murphy-Taylor. She claims she was fired after complaining about being sexually harassed by another deputy, who was also the brother of Sheriff Gary Hofmann. Members of the U.S. Department of Justice made a motion to intervene on behalf of Murphy-Taylor back in February.
ABC2 Investigators could not find an active phone number to reach Vernell Johnson for comment. Court documents do not list an attorney representing him in the civil case. John Breads, who represents Queen Anne's County in this case, says he does not believe Johnson has been served with papers in the lawsuit. Breads tells ABC2 the county has filed a motion to have the case dismissed.
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