The Rawlings-Blake administration plans to pay Freddie Gray's family $6.4 million as a settlement for civil claims in his 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 the more than 120 other lawsuits brought against the police department for alleged brutality and misconduct since 2011.
Gray died in April after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. In the hours after his funeral, the city erupted into rioting, including arson and looting at businesses throughout Baltimore.
Six officers who were part of his arrest and transport inside a police van have been charged with crimes ranging from murder to assault; all have pleaded not guilty. A pre-trail motions hearing is scheduled for Thursday for a judge to decide whether to move the cases out of Baltimore.
The city is accepting all civil liability in Gray's arrest and death, but does not acknowledge any wrongdoing by the police.
"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 stateement. "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."
By entering into the settlement, the city would avoid a publicly-filed lawsuit that could have played out in court.
It's rare for a wrongful death settlement to be paid in the millions of dollars. 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.
For example, the city paid $175,000 in mid-April to the estate of a man who was shot and killed by police. Michael Omar Wudtee, a 38-year-old Randallstown man, died in 2012 after being shot by police. His estate had sought $10 million in his death.
The state caps the amount of money people injured by police can collect in civil lawsuits, but government officials can negotiate higher payments. Gov. Larry Hogan signed legislation in April, increasing the amount plaintiffs can generally receive from $200,000 to $400,000. That's the first time the cap had been increased in nearly 30 years.
In a closely watched case earlier this year, Maryland's highest court upheld the cap, rejecting a payment of $11.5 million awarded by a jury to the family of a Prince George's County man fatally shot by police. The Court of Appeals ruling in March dropped the amount the county had to pay the family of the 2008 victim to $400,000.
Rawlings-Blake said at the time that a ruling in favor of the family could force local governments to pay out millions of dollars more when officers are sued for civil rights violations.
The cap has potentially saved city taxpayers millions of dollars in recent years.
A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed last fall that the city spent $5.7 million in 102 court judgments and settlements for alleged police misconduct since 2011; since then, it has paid more than $600,000.The investigation showed that city residents — including a pregnant woman and an 87-year-old grandmother — received battered faces, broken bones and other injuries during questionable arrests. The city's accounting of settlements and court judgments doesn't include legal fees to outside lawyers who represent officers. From 2011 through September 2014, the city paid another $5.8 million for representation, according to records the city provided last fall to The Sun.
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