- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Baltimore officials have reached a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old black man who died in April after sustaining injuries in the back of a police truck and rekindled a nationwide debate on law enforcement policies and procedures.

Although a half-dozen Baltimore Police Department officers are still slated to stand trial for charges related to Gray’s death, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday that the agreement will stave off any future claims that could have otherwise been brought against the city.

“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 said.

The deal, which needs the approval of a board that oversees city spending, appeared to be among the largest settlements in police death cases in recent years and happened just days before a judge is set to decide whether to move a trial for six officers charged in Mr. Gray’s death.

The proposed payment in the Gray case is more than the $5.7 million the city of Baltimore paid in total for 102 court judgments and settlements for alleged police misconduct between 2011 and last fall, according to an investigation by The Baltimore Sun. The city paid another $5.8 million for legal fees to outside lawyers who represented officers, the newspaper reported.

The head of the city’s police union condemned the agreement and urged the Board of Estimates to reject it when it meets Wednesday.

Billy Murphy, an attorney for the Gray family, also declined comment.

Mr. Gray, a resident of west Baltimore, was arrested on April 12 for possessing what cops believed to be an illegal switchblade. He was handcuffed and hauled away in the back of a police transport vehicle, where a medical examination determined he suffered major injuries to his head and neck. Mr. Gray fell into a coma that same day, died one week later and on May 1 his death was declared a homicide. Marilyn Mosby, Maryland’s attorney for the city of Baltimore, eventually determined the knife to be legal.

Demonstrations waged across the city immediately after Gray’s arrest intensified following his death, and protests on the day of his funeral quickly went from calm to violent. Governor Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency, and the mayor initiated a curfew amid a rash of rioting and looting that left the city to incur an estimated $20 million in damages.

Six BPD officers face charges ranging from second-degree assault, a misdemeanor, to second-degree “depraved-heart” murder. Ms. Rawlings-Blake said that reaching a settlement with the Gray family “should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial.”

The Gray settlement does not resolve any factual disputes, and expressly does not constitute an admission of liability on the part of the city, its police department or any of the officers. The settlement has nothing whatsoever to do with the criminal proceedings, the press release said.

In the state of Missouri, meanwhile, a federal judge said Tuesday that a wrongful-death suit brought by the parents of another young black man who died as a result of a police encounter, 18-year-old Michael Brown, won’t be heard in court until October 2016.

Less than a year before Freddie Gray’s name began to adorn protest signs waved by activists aligned against police brutality, demonstrations across the country were launched to draw attention to the case of Brown, an unarmed high school student who was shot and killed by a white Ferguson, Missouri, police officer in broad daylight. A grand jury ultimately decided not to indict the cop, Darren Wilson, and the Department of Justice cleared him of civil rights violations as well.

Separately, the Justice Department said a federal probe had uncovered “a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct within the Ferguson Police Department that violates the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution” brimming with implicit and explicit racial bias. Brown’s family is suing Ferguson, the former police chief and Wilson.

In July, New York City settled for $5.9 million with the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being put in a white police officer’s chokehold. The city of Chicago settled in 2001 a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of LaTanya Haggerty, who was shot to death by police, for $18 million.

⦁ This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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