Critics assail Baltimore police "gag orders"
Hearing Monday on bill to end “gag orders” in police settlements
ACLU says the measure is needed because Baltimore is “still playing games with the policy”
Above: Demonstrators protest last year in front of City Hall against the requirement of police misconduct victims to sign non-disparagement agreements, or “gag orders,” to win financial settlements from the city. (Fern Shen)
Police brutality victims and their advocates are planning to testify next Monday in support of a City Council bill aimed at ending the use of non-disclosure agreements, or “gag orders,” in police brutality and discrimination cases.
Bill 19-0409 would prohibit the city from requiring police misconduct and discrimination victims, as a condition for receiving a financial settlement, not to “disparage” the city and strictly limit what they say to the press and on social media.
“Not only does this cruel practice make individuals and families stay in the closet about their suffering, it keeps all Baltimoreans in the dark about police misconduct and discrimination,” the ACLU of Maryland said in a statement announcing the hearing date.
Public Safety Committee
Hearing on Bill 19-0409, “Transparency and Oversight in Claims and Litigation”
Monday, Sept. 16, at 5 p.m.
Baltimore City Hall
100 Holliday Street
Along with pro bono counsel Crowell & Moring, the ACLU represents police brutality claimant Ashley Overbey and this website, Baltimore Brew, in a lawsuit against the city’s practice.
The case resulted in a pivotal ruling in July, when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court decision and declared Baltimore’s use of gag orders unconstitutional and the settlements “hush money.”
With the city saying it will not appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, the case has returned to Baltimore, where it has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow.
But the future of the practice remains uncertain.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and City Solicitor Andre Davis have publicly stated that Baltimore has stopped using such agreements in police misconduct settlements – an assertion that the ACLU calls “100% untrue.”
“People can say whatever they want about their cases when the incident happens, when they file suit, before any settlement and after any settlement, if any. Full stop,” Davis said last month. “That’s been my policy for as long as I’ve been here.”
ACLU of Maryland legal director David Rocah yesterday took issue with Davis’ statement.
“The city is still playing games with the policy,” he said. “As far as we know, even after the appeals court ruling, the city has not fully ended the practice.”
For that reason, he said, Bill 19-0409 is necessary to bring “the clarity needed” by claimants and the media.