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Suit filed in death of wrestler

June 04, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The parents of a Hagerstown professional wrestler have filed a $350 million federal lawsuit against Ocean City, Md., alleging police officers beat their son to death.

The seven-count suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges that police acted negligently when they used batons and pepper spray to subdue Neil Caricofe, who was wandering a hotel naked and confused in August 1996.

Caricofe, 33, died after officers knelt on his back and handcuffed him outside the Fenwick Inn, according to the suit.

"They jumped on him and knocked him down and emptied several cans of pepper spray into his face," said Gerald C. Ruter, an attorney for Richard A. and Leatrice Caricofe. "He quite literally suffocated and died."

Officials of the resort town said Wednesday that police acted appropriately in trying to subdue Caricofe, who was banging on doors well past midnight, flailing his arms and ignoring commands from police officers.

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Ocean City Solicitor Guy R. Ayres III said the medical examiner's report indicated Caricofe died as a result of heart disease. He said the presence of muscle-building drugs and alcohol contributed to his death.

"We've investigated and reinvestigated the incident," he said. "At all times, police followed all proper procedures. It is just an unfortunate incident."

Ruter said Caricofe had used legal drugs designed to build muscles, but said Caricofe was a healthy man who had competed in a wrestling match in New Jersey a few weeks before his death.

"I think that we're going to be able to prove that if it weren't for the beating and the macing and the choking, he would have been alive the next day," he said.

The suit, which names the town, former mayor Roland F. Powell, Police Chief David Massey and 13 police officers, accuses the defendants of wrongful death, excessive force, inadequate training and supervision of police, and false arrest.

Both sides agree Caricofe left his room at the hotel at about 4 a.m. on Aug. 23, 1996. He was naked and began knocking on doors on the seventh floor.

Ruter said Caricofe probably did not mean to leave his room and was confused about how to get back.

When guests called the hotel's front desk, authorities called police. When officers arrived, Caricofe was unresponsive and closed his eyes and rolled his head.

Ayres said the 6-foot-4, 250-pound man was difficult stop.

"People had to lock the doors to their rooms and were afraid to come out," he said. "The incident reports indicate he did not respond to the baton striking He was so powerful, it didn't have any effect. Neither, apparently, did the pepper spray."

Ruter said Caricofe had hurt no one and did not make a move toward the officers until they tried to subdue him. Since Caricofe was disoriented, Ruter said the proper action would have been to show patience until he came back to reality.

"All the police had to do was nothing," he said.

Caricofe, a 1981 North Hagerstown High School graduate, was a correctional officer in Sykesville, Md. He became a professional wrestler in 1989 and competed under the names "Nasty Neil Superior" and Neil "The Power" Superior.

In 1992, Caricofe founded the Superior Pro-Wrestling School in Hagerstown.

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