The city of Baltimore has reached a settlement agreement with Freddie Gray’s family for $6.4 million – an astronomical figure considering the beleaguered department had paid about $5.7 million in police abuse settlements in more than 40 cases during a three-year period.
The settlement is also note-worthy considering Gray’s family had not even filed a lawsuit.
The settlement still needs to be approved by the city’s Board of Estimates, the governing body that overseas city spending, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Gray was the 25-year-old man who died in the back of a Baltimore police van in April, sparking protests, riots and further national scrutiny on police abuse.
The last time he was seen alive was when a citizen named Kevin Moore video recorded police dragging a handcuffed and screaming Gray into the back of the van.
It was then reported that Gray was never strapped in, so it is believed that officers purposely drove recklessly, causing him to fling around the back of the van where his head ended up smashing against a bolt on the back door.
Six officers, Caeser Goodson, Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, William Porter, Alicia White and Brian Rice were charged in his death. All are still awaiting trial on charges ranging from murder to assault. All have pleaded not guilty.
Last week, a judge ruled that the officers will be given separate trials. This week, a judge will determine if the trials will be held in Baltimore or in another jurisdiction.
Last year – even before the Freddie Gray incident cast a spotlight on the Baltimore Police Department – the Baltimore Sun published an investigative report, detailing several cases of excessive force on citizens, who ended up cleared of all criminal charges as well as receiving monetary settlements, which diverted money from community projects.
Such beatings, in which the victims are most often African-Americans, carry a hefty cost. They can poison relationships between police and the community, limiting cooperation in the fight against crime, the mayor and police officials say. They also divert money in the city budget — the $5.7 million in taxpayer funds paid out since January 2011 would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that doesn’t count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police.
While the settlements may cost the city and the taxpayer’s money, they relieve the officers from admitting wrongdoing. And that is exactly the case in the Gray settlement.
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.
Under the proposed settlement, the city would pay $2.8 million during the current fiscal year and $3.6 million in next year, the city said.
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.
Prior to the Gray settlement, only six settlements exceeded $200,000 since 2011. And those came after months of legal wrangling.
But those cases obviously did not capture the nation’s attention as this one did.