As prosecutors ready a case against several Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, the city has moved quickly to resolve its civil liability. An offer of $6.4 million has tentative agreement between the parties, the Washington Post reports this morning. The settlement, if approved by the city’s Board of Estimates, will preclude the filing of a wrongful-death lawsuit by Gray’s family:
Baltimore officials have reached a $6.4 million wrongful death settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died in April from a neck injury he suffered in police custody, according to two people with knowledge of the agreement. …
It’s unclear whether the city or police department acknowledges liability as part of the settlement.
The settlement was reached following weeks of talks between city leaders and Billy and Hassan Murphy, attorneys for the Gray family.
The settlement goes broader than just punitive damages. The Gray family has gotten a commitment from Baltimore to make all uniformed police officers wear body cameras. Gov. Larry Hogan already approved funding for such a policy in the wake of Gray’s death, Post reporter Keith Alexander reminds readers, and the city was likely to adopt the policy anyway. The use of body cameras will not just confirm abuse and mistreatment, but will exonerate officers falsely accused in such matters too, so all sides have a stake in documenting public interactions.
Baltimore’s quick settlement might reflect uneasiness with the status of the prosecution of the officers involved, where the city faces long odds of convictions. Two months ago, Alexander interviewed former mayor Kurt Schmoke, who had hoped for a major settlement of the civil case before the criminal case went to court:
Schmoke believes a civil suit win could help assuage many within the city who are watching the case closely, especially if prosecutors are unable to secure a conviction against the officers.
“I had hoped the civil case would go before the criminal case. It’s going to be difficult for the criminal prosecution to succeed,” Schmoke said. “It would be nice for the community to feel some justice has been served for the Gray family.”
If so, they are paying a premium for peace in the streets. The payout exceeds what New York City paid to the family of Eric Garner ($5.9 million). It also exceeds, as the Baltimore Sun points out, what the city has paid out in police misconduct claims since 2011 in total:
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. …
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.”
Perhaps this will be enough for calm to prevail as the criminal case against the police officers unfold. This still may not be enough to prevent unrest in case of a dismissal or not-guilty verdict in court, but if it does, it’s probably money well spent for Baltimore.