The city of Baltimore plans to pay the family of Freddie Gray a total of $6.4 million as a settlement for civil claims following his unlawful arrest and subsequent death earlier this year, reports the Baltimore Sun.
The settlement, which is expected to be approved at a meeting of the city's spending panel later this week, is monumentally larger than similar payouts the city has issued in the past few years. It is "larger than the total the more than 120 other lawsuits brought against the police department for alleged brutality and misconduct since 2011," noted the Sun.
By making the settlement, the city is accepting civil liability for the tragedy, but it emphasizes that it is not admitting any wrongdoing by its police officers. Six of those officers are facing charges, ranging from murder to assault, stemming from Gray's death. Gray died after sustaining a severe spinal cord injury during police custody. The officers have all plead not guilty.
"The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial," Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "This settlement is being proposed solely because it is in the best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation that would only make it more difficult for our city to heal and potentially cost taxpayers many millions more in damages."
Normally civil settlements include a clause that would prevent both sides from speaking about the case, but in Gray's case, with its ongoing criminal trials, there is likely to be an exception, Dallas-area attorney Daryl Washington, who specializes in police misconduct cases, told Fusion.
"There's usually an exception carved out in there that says something to the effect of 'by order of the court,'" he said. So in the case that a family member was called on to testify during the criminal trials, they would still be able to speak about it.
"I'm really surprised that they got such a large settlement like this in such fast time. It took [Eric] Garner more than a year before they got that matter resolved," he added.
Maryland, unlike most states, has long placed a cap of $200,000 on money people can collect in civil lawsuits, barring certain exceptions. Only six cases since 2011 have paid over that amount, reported the Sun.
In April, following protests and rioting due to Gray's death, the state passed a law doubling that amount to $400,000. The new cap goes into effect in October, but still Gray's case is an "extraordinary," the paper reports. Other similar cases have received substantially smaller payouts in recent years.
Earlier this year, a court ruled that Prince George's County had to pay $400,000 to the family of a man who was shot and killed by police there. The jury originally awarded $11.5 million to the man, but the appeals court cut the payment, citing the existing and forthcoming cap.
The last time Baltimore paid out so much money for a case of alleged police misconduct was when the city paid $6 million in 2004, after a rough ride in a police van left Jeffrey Adrian Alston paralyzed in 1997—a very similar set of circumstances which led to Gray's death.
“It was absolutely chilling,” Shannise Boyd, who had a child with Alston prior to the incident, told Vocativ upon seeing images of Gray on the news. Alston later died from complications related to his quadriplegia.
“It was exactly the same. I remember the whole thing like it was yesterday," she said, lamenting that no officers were ever brought to trial for that case. "Hopefully, if something bad truly happened again, they’ll be held accountable this time.”
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.