The City of Baltimore has agreed to pay $6.4 million to the family of Freddie Gray, in the absence of a jury decision on the circumstances, or even a civil lawsuit filed demanding a payout. Gray’s death while in police custody sparked riots that caused millions of dollars in damages. The officers involved in Gray’s apprehension, and are alleged to be responsible for his death, are facing murder charges.
Meanwhile, the City of Baltimore settles with the family, not because of a lawsuit, but that they thought there might be a lawsuit.
Billy Murphy, the lawyer for the Gray family said the mayor reached out to the Gray family in compassion to seek healing resolution and closure.
City leaders say they feared Gray’s family would file a civil suit in federal court where there are no caps on damages.
Following the Board of Estimate’s approval of the settlement, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this settlement was made in the best interest of the taxpayers. The mayor stressed the city did not admit fault and the settlement has no bearing on the criminal trials for the six officers charged in Gray’s death.
Rawlings-Blake continued by saying, “This settlement has nothing whatsoever to do with the criminal proceedings now underway. The purpose of the civil settlement is to bring an important measure of closure to the family, the community and the City and to avoid years and year of protracted civil litigation and potential hard to the community and divisiveness which may likely result.”
Billy Murphy says the timing of the announcement–one day before a key hearing in the officer’s cases–was carefully consider and was done to keep the peace.
So, the mayor decided to drop $6.4 million of taxpayer money for a lawsuit that hadn’t been filed yet? Really?
Wow. Just…wow. As a general rule, settling out of court is a common thing for municipalities. The idea is to cut down on the amount of a potential settlement and reduce attorney fees at the same time. It certain contexts, it makes sense. It may ultimately be found that it made sense in this case…but before a lawsuit is even filed?
Then there is the fact that jury selection is set to begin now. The city of Baltimore is saying, whether they mean to or not, “See? Of course these officers are guilty. Why else would we pay out a lifetime’s worth of their combined salaries if they weren’t?”
It doesn’t mean that, but the average American doesn’t understand that large entities like corporations and municipalities often pay out settlements because it’s cheaper than fighting it, particularly in such a polarized case. Needless to say, paying out a settlement when there wasn’t even a lawsuit filed yet certainly won’t help that perception. And at great expense to already beleaguered Baltimore taxpayers who haven’t even begun reconstruction of their vandalized properties.
But hey, we’re sure everyone can count on such bureaucratic benevolence from now on. If a City of Baltimore vehicle hits us and it’s their fault, we’re confident the mayor will be beating down the door to offer us a settlement too …
… sorry, we just couldn’t keep typing that with a straight face.
Photo Credit: Stephen Melkisethian/flikr