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Crime & Justiceby Mark Reutter11:29 amNov 17, 20150

Payments to settle police brutality cases have risen sharply in 2015

BREW EXCLUSIVE: Baltimore taxpayers have shelled out an unprecedented amount to settle police brutality cases this year, led by the Freddie Gray case.

Above: Cash settlements for victims of alleged police misconduct are piling up.

Continuing a parade of out-of-court settlements that have cost taxpayers more than $7.3 million so far in 2015, the Board of Estimates is set to approve another $110,000 tomorrow to two men who accused Baltimore police officers of false arrest, false imprisonment, battery and assault.

While media attention has focused on the outsized number of homicides in Baltimore this year, the cost of lawsuits settled by the city involving alleged police misconduct has also risen steeply.

By far the most expensive case was the city’s payment of $6.4 million to the estate of Freddie Gray last September in return for his family not filing a civil suit.

This amount was more than all of the misconduct settlements paid the city over the four years between 2011 and 2014. Typically, the city pays about $1 million to 1.2 million a year in police settlements.

In the last nine months, the Board of Estimates has also settled two other expensive lawsuits – $150,000 to pay for alleged misconduct by a detective who had earlier cost the city $100,000 in a false arrest case, and $125,000 for a bystander shot by police.

Last month, a Hampden woman was paid $95,000 for injuries sustained during a “rough ride” by officers who admitted having thrown her, handcuffed and bleeding, into a police van without strapping her into the vehicle.

In all of the settlements, neither the city nor police acknowledge specific wrongdoing, but a summary of the facts is presented in a written statement to the Board of Estimates.

City policy prohibits recipients of police settlement money to discuss their case publicly – or to speak to members of the media – on pain of the city withholding some or all of their cash award.

Legal Costs Not Included

So far in 2015, including tomorrow’s cases, the city has shelled out $7,450,000 to settle lawsuits against police by civilians, The Brew’s review of Board of Estimates records show – with by far the largest settlement going to the Gray family.

There are other costs that do not appear in the public record.

Police officers named in lawsuits are given free representation by private law firms hired by the city. Typically, a case is in litigation for at least a year before the city agrees to settle, usually on the eve of a civil trial.

Also not included in the $7.45 million figure are police settlements under $25,000. Such cases do not require the approval of the Board of Estimates and are not part of the public record.

Unlit Street Light

The latest settlements will end lawsuits filed by plaintiffs alleging undue force by a total of five officers in the two separate incidents.

The city will pay $75,000 to Keondre L. Boykin, 19, who was punched in the mouth by Officer Ian Smith after he refused orders to sit on the ground while walking down the 4800 block of Litchfield Avenue in December 2013.

Boykin, then a minor attending high school, was stopped because a street light was out of order.

Smith and Officer Jose Guerrero Jr. said they could not see his face and shined a flashlight at Boykin, who responded by refusing to obey their command to halt, according to a description of the incident published in the Board of Estimates agenda.

After he sat down, a fight ensued when the plaintiff allegedly “began to pull away and flail his arms,” striking Smith. The officer was treated at the scene by a medic for an unspecified injury, while Boykin was transported to Sinai Hospital for treatment of his mouth.

Boykin later sued the officers in Baltimore Circuit Court for $1 million in compensatory and $1 million in punitive damages.

Car Stop Confrontation

In the second settlement up for approval tomorrow, Tavon Sherman will be paid $35,000 to drop his suit against Officers Steven L. Dorn, Kenneth P. Howard and Wesley Cagle.

Sherman, now 32, was tasered in October 2013 after he leveled repeated outbursts of profanity against Officer Dorn, who had pulled over a car in which he was a passenger in East Baltimore.

Even though Sherman eventually followed Dorn’s order to sit on the curb, he was tasered by Officer Cagle “when he continued to flail,” according to the city’s summary of the case.

In his suit, Sherman sought $200,000 in punitive and $200,000 in compensatory damages. The officers in both lawsuits were defended by the Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner law firm.

The spending board’s $6.4 million settlement with the Freddie Gray family came as a result of Gray’s arrest near the 1600 block of North Avenue for possession of an illegal knife last April 12.

At some point during his transport to the Western District police station, the 25-year-old suffered an injury that resulted in his spinal cord being severed.

His injury and subsequent death on April 19 sparked days of peaceful protests and a night of rioting and looting. Six officers have been charged by the state’s attorney’s office in connection with his death.

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