Yvonne Wenger et al., Baltimore Sun, September 8, 2015
The Rawlings-Blake administration plans to pay Freddie Gray’s family $6.4 million as a settlement for civil claims in his arrest and death–an extraordinary payment in a lawsuit against city police.
The settlement–which is expected to be approved at Wednesday’s meeting of the city’s spending panel–will be paid out over two years, according to the mayor’s office. The five-member board is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
The payment is larger than the total of more than 120 other lawsuits brought against the police department for alleged brutality and misconduct since 2011.
Six officers who were part of Gray’s arrest and transport in a police van have been charged with crimes ranging from murder to assault; all have pleaded not guilty. A pre-trial motions hearing is scheduled Thursday for a judge to decide whether to move the cases out of Baltimore; defense attorneys say the officers cannot get a fair trial here because of the intense publicity surrounding the case.
The city is accepting all civil liability in Gray’s arrest and death, but does not acknowledge any wrongdoing by the police, according to a statement from Rawlings-Blake’s administration.
“The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial,” the mayor said in a statement. “This settlement is being proposed solely because it is in the best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation that would only make it more difficult for our city to heal and potentially cost taxpayers many millions more in damages.”
The mayor’s office declined to answer questions about the settlement, including why it was brought to the spending panel before any lawsuit was filed.
The document says the purpose of the settlement “is to bring an important measure of closure to the family, the community, and the City, and to avoid years and years of protracted civil litigation and the potential harm to the community and divisiveness which may likely result.”
Lt. Gene Ryan, president of the city’s police union, called the settlement irresponsible and a “ridiculous reaction” by Rawlings-Blake.
“Just as Baltimore is returning to its pre-riot normalcy, this news threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department the Baltimore City government,” Ryan said in a statement. “We strongly urge the city’s spending panel to reject this proposed settlement and to wait until such time as there is a more appropriate response.”
By entering into a settlement, the city would avoid a public lawsuit that could have played out in court. In such city settlements, a clause has stated that both sides cannot talk publicly about the case.
A multimillion-dollar wrongful death settlement is rare in Baltimore. Only six payouts since 2011 exceeded $200,000 in the more than 120 police brutality-related claims. In all of those payouts, settlements came months or years after legal wrangling in court battles.
The settlement is similar to the amount the family of Eric Garner reached with New York City in July. The city agreed to pay $5.9 million to the family of Garner, who died in July 2014 after a police officer used a chokehold to subdue him on a Staten Island sidewalk.