Baltimore to pay Freddie Gray family $6.4 million settlement, eclipsing combined previous payouts

Gloria Darden, mother of Freddie Gray (R), sits with family members. © Lucas Jackson
The city of Baltimore will pay Freddie Gray’s family a $6.4 million settlement for his April arrest and death. If approved, the payout will be larger than all combined police misconduct settlements by the Maryland jurisdiction over the past several years.

The settlement, announced by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Tuesday, does not admit any wrongdoing by the six Baltimore Police Department officers who are charged in Gray’s death.

“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,” 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.”

The proposal calls for Baltimore to pay $2.8 million during the current fiscal year and $3.6 million in next year, the city said. It will have to be approved by the Board of Estimates, the governing body that oversees the city’s spending. The five members, including Rawlings-Blake, are expected to meet Wednesday.

City Council President Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young, also a member of the Board of Estimates, will support the proposal, spokesman Lester Davis told the Baltimore Sun.

"The council president felt strongly that the matter of the settlement needed to be addressed, because you have a situation where a lengthy legal proceeding in terms of the civil case would not necessarily be in the best interest of the city," Davis said.

He added that any lawsuit with the Gray family would likely have taken place in federal court, and would then not be subject to the state’s cap on payouts.

If approved, the settlement would be more than the combined payouts of over 120 lawsuits brought against the Baltimore PD claiming police brutality and misconduct since 2011, according to a 2014 Baltimore Sun investigation. The city paid some $5.7 million in those cases, with payouts capped at $500,000 per case, unless there were extenuating circumstances like multiple victims or actual malice. Baltimore paid an additional $5.8 million in legal fees in defending the police in those cases.

The settlement would also exceed the $5.9 million that the New York Police Department paid to settle a wrongful death suit in the case of Eric Garner, who died after an officer used a banned chokehold move to subdue him during an arrest last August. Garner’s family had originally sought $75 million.

Gray’s family had yet to file a lawsuit seeking compensation for his death, but the settlement was made after weeks of talks between city leaders and the family’s attorneys, the Washington Post reported.

It also includes a provision calling for the Baltimore PD to begin requiring all its officers to wear body cameras, two people familiar with the agreement told the Post. In May, Rawlings-Blake announced that the city's police would have body cameras by the end of the year, an about-face for her on the issue. She had previously vetoed a bill that would have required the technology for the department. The mayor said at the time that she was concerned the bill would preempt needed insight from her appointed task force.

The proposed settlement comes days before a pre-trial motions hearing is scheduled for a judge to decide whether the trials for the six officers should be moved to a different jurisdiction. Defense attorneys for the cops claim that they cannot gets fair trials in Baltimore because of the intense scrutiny and publicity surrounding the case. On Wednesday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams declined to dismiss the charges and remove prosecutor Marilyn Mosby from the case, but did grant a motion allowing the officers to be tried separately.