An innocent man imprisoned for seven months by Baltimore police on the basis of his reputed nickname will be awarded $150,000 to settle his lawsuit.
The Board of Estimates is set to pay the sum tomorrow to Darren Brown, who charged four police officers with acting “with deliberate and/or reckless disregard for the truth” while conducting an investigation of an August 2008 shooting at a Chinese carry-out on Harford Rd.
The case was settled after U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett denied a motion by the four defendants to dismiss the suit. The cash settlement will terminate the case, with the proviso that the plaintiff and his lawyers not publicly discuss the lawsuit.
Millions a Year
The Brown case is the latest of scores of settlements since 2008 – costing taxpayers an average of $3.5 million a year – paid to citizens who have accused police of misconduct (here and here). Included in these fees are as much as $700,000 a year that the city spends for outside counsel defending officers from lawsuits.
“Not only do [the settlements] siphon off scarce funds that could have been used to address other pressing problems in Baltimore, but each judgment also can represent an instance where citizens were avoidably harmed by the actions of officers whose job it is to protect them,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke stated when the City Council investigated the matter in 2011.
Funds for police settlements are approved by the Board of Estimates headed by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
City Solicitor George Nilson, who also sits on the Board of Estimates and whose office negotiated the Brown settlement, has said that the city will opt for out-of-court agreements to avoid the expense of a trial and the uncertainty of a jury verdict.
Police officials told the City Council in 2011 that they have instituted better training for officers, which has reduced the number of brutality complaints. About 65% of the cases against police allege excessive force, they said.
In his ruling, Judge Bennett said he accepted the following description by Brown as factual:
A surveillance tape of the shooting on the night of August 5, 2008 led to the arrest of David Jefferson as one shooter, while a witness identified the second shooter as “Mookie . . . [who] hangs in the 2700 block of the Alameda.”
Based on his previous encounters with Jefferson and Darren Brown, Officer Paul Southard believed that “Mookie” was Brown. Detective Edward Bailey III, who was handling the investigation, prepared a probable-cause statement identifying Brown as the second suspect.
Officers Southard and Julian Min arrested Brown on August 7 and charged him with attempted murder, assault and armed robbery. The lawsuit alleges that these charges were “brought without review by or approval of a prosecutor . . . [and that] Defendants Bailey, Southard, Min and [Officer Felipe] Carrasquillo made no further attempts” to confirm whether Brown was, in fact, “Mookie.”
Four months after Brown was incarcerated, David Jefferson’s mother saw the surveillance tape and identified the second suspect as being her son’s cousin, Kevin Johnson Jr.
“City’s Indifference” to False Arrests
According to the lawsuit, the State’s Attorney’s Office was notified by Brown’s lawyer on December 4, 2008, and again on December 19, of the mother’s statement, but no action was taken until the spring of 2009, when a new assistant state’s attorney was assigned to the case and asked the Police Department to reopen the investigation and interview David Jefferson’s mother.
“This new investigation led to the dismissal of the charges against plaintiff and his release on March 13, 2009,” according to the suit. A month later, Kevin Johnson Jr., who was nicknamed “Mookie,” was arrested by police and was subsequently convicted of the shooting.
In 2011, Brown filed a federal lawsuit against the city that not only accused the officers of “reckless disregard,” but claimed that “the Baltimore City Police Department’s customs, policies and practices in terms of officer training, officer evaluations and arrests without probable cause resulted in his unlawful arrest.”
The suit further alleged that the failure of the Mayor and City Council “to seek prosecutorial review and the city’s indifference and lack of efforts at halting the widespread and on-going practice of arresting individuals without probable cause” violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.
Judge Bennett ruled that the allegations against the police department and Mayor and City Council would be stayed pending the resolution of the case against the officers.
Three of the four officers are still on the police force. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Southard has left the department.