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    Inmate files suit, claims police used excessive force

    A man who had escaped from a Maryland prison was shot twice by a deputy as he fled after trying to obtain a fake ID card in Clearwater.

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 21, 2002

    TAMPA -- George Marion Miller walked into a Clearwater driver's license center looking for a fake ID to match his phony Social Security card three weeks after escaping from a Maryland jail on a robbery conviction.

    When Pinellas County deputies showed up, Miller ran, through a parking lot and into nearby traffic. He tried to hijack two cars, deputies say.

    Two gunshots stopped Miller, who is locked away in a Florida prison for the rest of his life.

    He can't run anymore.

    So he's suing.

    Miller, a one-time fugitive from Maryland who ended up sentenced to life for burglary assault for trying to hijack the cars in Clearwater, said Sgt. Charles Street used excessive force during the March 2000 foot chase.

    He filed a suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday claiming that Street had no reason to shoot him twice, once in the hip and once in the abdomen.

    The suit also names Pinellas Sheriff Everett S. Rice for a "great indifference to the training, supervision and discipline" of Pinellas County deputies.

    Miller will ask a jury for $75,000 to pay for medical bills and emotional trauma suffered.

    "They twisted this thing around," said John Shahan, the attorney representing Miller. "He was trying to get away from this cop who's firing wildly at him. He didn't have a gun. He didn't have a weapon. He wasn't trying to carjack their car. He was running for his life, basically."

    Sheriff's officials would not comment Thursday.

    Shahan said Street had violated sheriff's rules by firing on Miller, who had not committed a violent crime or immediately threatened death or great bodily harm to anyone. Miller denies that he tried to hijack the two vehicles, Shahan said.

    It was Street who had endangered lives by firing wildly along a busy street, not Miller, who had just been just running for his life, Shahan said.

    Shahan said he had witnesses to prove it, including the drivers of the cars Miller supposedly had tried to hijack.

    Miller had been on the run since March 8, 2000, when he walked away from a Maryland minimum-security facility. Miller was serving 10 years for three counts of unarmed robbery and was scheduled to be released this year, a Maryland corrections spokesperson said.

    While fueling state vehicles outside the Maryland facility, Miller escaped.

    He next surfaced March 28, 2000, at a Florida driver's license center at Enterprise and McMullen-Booth roads. The series of events that ended with Miller's shooting that Tuesday began when he attempted to obtain a Florida identification card with a bogus Social Security card. Suspicious employees notified deputies.

    The deputies who arrived did not know Miller had escaped from a Maryland prison. During questioning, Miller ran.

    As deputies pursued, Miller cut through the Oakbrook Plaza parking lot and darted onto Enterprise.

    Witnesses and sheriff's officials said Miller ran first to one car, trying to yank out its elderly driver, and then to a second. Several shots were fired; two struck Miller.

    In May 2001 he was sentenced to life in prison. He now is in Glades Correctional Institution in Belle Glade.

    The suit said Street used greater force than necessary to control the situation and kept shooting "in an attempt to kill" Miller. The suit also said that Street had alternative, nonlethal options available to him including a baton and pepper spray.

    The suit said that Miller ran "in fear of deadly force" and that Street's firing at a man suspected of having provided false documents and who offered no physical resistance violated Miller's constitutional rights.

    Street, who was honored with a certificate of professionalism last month, was placed on paid leave following the incident, which officials said was routine until an investigation was completed.

    He returned to duty after the investigation.

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