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Critics assail Baltimore police "gag orders"

The Dripby Fern Shen5:18 pmOct 29, 20190

“Gag order” bill moves to Young’s desk

Supporters call on the mayor to sign a bill barring the use of non-disparagement agreements that silence claimants in police misconduct settlements

Above: Council President Brandon Scott and co-sponsor Shannon Sneed (to his right) join supporters to applaud the passage of the gag order bill. (Fern Shen)

The coalition behind a bill to end Baltimore’s use of “gag orders” in police brutality cases took a moment to celebrate last night after the City Council unanimously passed the measure.

“No one who has experienced brutality or discrimination should be forced to stay silent as a term of their compensation,” City Council President Brandon Scott said after the meeting.

But then Scott and other supporters addressed their next challenge:

Getting the mayor to sign Bill 19-0409.

That remains an an open question since the administration’s point person, City Solicitor Andre Davis, remains strongly opposed to the bill.

“Thank you, mayor, for taking a stance. But we need you to go a step farther,” Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, the bill’s chief sponsor, said.

Constitutional Test

Young himself has tried to signal that the city has softened on the issue.

Last month, he announced an executive order that he said enables citizens who settle police lawsuits to speak freely.

Davis acknowledges that non-disparagement agreements (NDAs) are still used in police settlements, but he says modified language makes them less restrictive and not in violation of the federal appeals court ruling that struck down the NDAs as a violation of the First Amendment.

The ACLU of Maryland, which crafted the bill with a grassroots coalition of civil rights and women’s groups, has disagreed, saying the language is still unconstitutional.

The Young administration announced a policy of inviting claimants in police settlements to speak at Board of Estimates meetings where settlements are routinely approved.

But what was advertised as the first example of the new policy – involving a woman paid $75,000 after she suffered an alleged police beating – was stymied when the woman refused Davis’ offer to come before the board.

Young now has the option to sign Bill 19-0409, veto it or let it take effect without his signature. If the mayor vetoes the measure, the Council can override his action with a super-majority vote.

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