- Associated Press - Monday, September 16, 2019

BALTIMORE (AP) - The mayor of Baltimore on Monday announced an executive order that bars the city in some instances from prohibiting alleged victims of police brutality from disparaging police after they receive cash settlements.

The order signed Friday by Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young applies retroactively, according to the city, but the civil rights organization that challenged the practice in court is arguing it does not “nullify” the nondisclosure provisions in past settlements. Young’s move comes two months after an appeals court likened the city’s practice to “hush money.”

The announcement said “unreasonable constraints will not be employed” in settlements stemming from lawsuits “against the City, its departments, agencies, commissions, officials, and employees.”

“I believe that people who bring a claim forward against the City, and receive a settlement should absolutely be able to speak their truth,” Young said in a statement.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded in July that Baltimore’s practice of reducing financial settlements to alleged victims of police misconduct when they speak out about their experience is unconstitutional. It reversed an earlier ruling against a Baltimore resident who got only half of a negotiated $63,000 settlement when the city determined she had violated a nondisparagement clause in her agreement.



Ashley Overbey negotiated the settlement with the city after suing three police officers who she said beat her and shot her with a stun gun when she reported a burglary in her home. The city said she broke the agreement when she responded to online comments in an article about her case.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland represents Overbey. On Monday, the organization said it does not support the executive order and argued it does not invalidate the so-called gag orders included in past settlements.

“The Executive Order will not protect the First Amendment rights of survivors of police abuse in Baltimore,” the group said in a statement. “The Executive Order says that the City will not impose “unreasonable constraints” on free speech, and we know that the City has been arguing in court that their current practice for gag orders is reasonable.”

The ACLU said the order leaves the decision about what is “unreasonable” in the hands of the city solicitor.

The announcement coincided with a City Council hearing scheduled for Monday on a proposed ordinance that would ban the nondisclosure provisions. City Council President Brandon Scott, who announced his mayoral bid last week, co-sponsored the measure.

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