Analysis: What the $6.4 Million Settlement to Freddie Gray’s Family Means

Associated Press Photo
Associated Press Photo

Yesterday we learned that Baltimore has agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray. The settlement comes before the family even filed a wrongful death suit against the city and as criminal charges are pending against six officers.

What we know is this, however – the city probably faces two points of liability here. First, police officers failed to secure Mr. Gray. Second, they failed to administer timely medical care even after Mr. Gray was complaining about difficulty breathing and he became unresponsive.

Based on that, the city’s risk assessors likely were supportive of some form of settlement.

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake reportedly believed such a settlement would not affect the criminal cases, but it would avoid a drawn-out civil case against the city or police.

“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,” she said in a statement.

The Washington Post today put the settlement in perspective with a chart of other major settlements from excessive force cases. The settlement slightly exceeds the $5.9 million New York officials agreed to pay to the family of Eric Garner, who died after he was put in a chokehold by police on Staten Island.

Rodney King in 1994 received $3.8 million from Los Angeles, an amount the Washington Post estimates at $6.2 million today. One of two of the more infamous New York cases was that of Amadou Diallo, who was shot 41 times after he reached for what police thought was a gun but turned out to be his wallet. All four police officers were acquitted in that case. His family received $3 million ($3.8 million in 2015 dollars).

On the other hand, Abner Louima received $8.75 million ($11.8 in today’s dollars) in 1997 after being tortured and sexually assaulted by a New York City police officer. In that case, Mr. Louima suffered severe internal injuries, the officer was found guilty of the assault, and a second officer was convicted of holding Louima down while the officer attacked him.

Three lesser known cases drew far more. Carlton Brown drew $16.6 million for a 1992 incident, the family of LaTanya Haggery drew $18 million, and Christina Eilman drew $22.5 million. The Post writes, “Eilman was a 21-year-old UCLA student when she was arrested for acting erratically at Midway Airport in Chicago. Police held her overnight, during which she acted psychotically for hours. Despite her mental illness, police released her alone in a high-crime neighborhood. She was raped that night, then fell from a seventh-story window, suffering severe injuries.”

However, many observers see this in Baltimore as a political settlement, aimed at easing tensions and anger among city residents.

“The fact the civil matter seems to be resolved hopefully will reduce some of the tension among people who might have demonstrated at each of those six trials,” said Kurt L. Schmoke, a former Baltimore mayor and state’s attorney who is now president of the University of Baltimore. “They might feel there is at least some semblance of justice that has occurred for the Gray family.”

Meanwhile, the “Baltimore police union blasted the agreement as ‘obscene,’ saying there is no reason to settle before the criminal cases­ are resolved and before a civil case was filed.”

In a statement, Lt. Gene Ryan, the union’s president, said the agreement “threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City government.”

The Baltimore Sun editorial was equally critical, arguing that “the best case that can be made” for the settlement is that “it might have prevented a riot.” However, they add, “it nonetheless also carries real risk for the city in terms of setting precedents for future cases, changing the course of the criminal trials and affecting public safety in the city more generally.”

They write, “The settlement appears on first blush to be an eye-popping amount — more than the city’s combined total payouts in police misconduct cases since 2011, and 16 times the cap for damages for such cases in state courts.”

However, they still believe it could be “a great deal for the city.” They argue, “The Gray family could have pursued the matter in federal court, where such caps don’t apply and judgments can reach into the scores of millions of dollars. To hold the city accountable under the applicable federal statute, the Gray family’s attorneys would have to prove not only that the officers’ actions or inaction caused Gray’s injuries but that they reflected the policy or custom of the Baltimore Police Department.”

The Sun continues, “Given that the U.S. Justice Department is presently investigating — at the mayor’s request — whether Baltimore police engage in a pattern and practice of civil rights violations, the city might well have figured that the Gray family’s chances at a mega-verdict, should the case go to trial, were unusually high.”

As the Sun put it, “The city is essentially conceding a vulnerability under federal civil rights law.”

The rest of the editorial assesses the risk but the key discussion would seem to be the combination of the facts of this case combined with the history of the Baltimore police.

The Sun wraps up their piece with: “Fairly compensating the Gray family for its loss is necessary, no doubt. So are vigorous and fair trials for the six officers. But the most important component of justice may be getting at the root causes of Baltimore’s unrest and the reasons why Freddie Gray’s death resonated so widely in the first place. When Mayor Rawlings-Blake takes questions about the settlement tomorrow , we expect she will discuss it in the context of the first two, but if she wants to keep the peace not just this week but into the future, she needs to talk much more about the third.”

The third part of that equation is the most important and will be the most difficult to come to terms with.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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51 Comments

  1. sisterhood

    Interesting that yesterday several people commented this huge settlement was not proof of anything, “nada, zilch”. Yet the same people argue that a plea bargain is an admission of guilt!

      1. Barack Palin

        Agree, the settlement proves nothing.  The city is just trying to keep the peace and save on litigation costs.  Look at the people who approved the settlement, is this outcome any surprise?  Mayor Rawlings-Blake is in way over her head.

         

        1. PhilColeman

          Agree on the skill-set of the mayor, but hardly a solitary instance. When you look at the entire political and administrative leadership of Baltimore, the best solution is doubtless, “back up the truck,” and get rid of them all. A political “reset button” if you will. But when incompetents rule on incompetents, a mutual admiration society results, and nothing happens short of a general recall movement.

          It is really too bad. Baltimore has much to offer besides killer crab cakes. There are hundreds of thousands of people there of all stripes who are good people and deserve better. Somebody is surely going to write a book how Baltimore fell into the dumper, and I’m going to read it.

      2. sisterhood

        “First, police officers failed to secure Mr. Gray. Second, they failed to administer timely medical care even after Mr. Gray was complaining about difficulty breathing and he became unresponsive.”
        What part of this don’t you understand? And yet you and BP continue to defend the Baltimore Police Dept’s actions.

        I believe there is also an independent autopsy.

        “..the U.S. Justice Department is presently investigating — at the mayor’s request — whether Baltimore police engage in a pattern and practice of civil rights violations, the city might well have figured that the Gray family’s chances at a mega-verdict, should the case go to trial, were unusually high.”

      3. sisterhood

        ” “The state medical examiner’s office concluded that Gray’s death could not be ruled an accident, and was instead a homicide, because officers failed to follow safety procedures “through acts of omission.” “

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      I’d say this is an admission of liability. As for guilt, unfortunately, governments are never held to be “guilty,” only on rare occasions their minions are.

    2. zaqzaq

      This is a political move by the mayor to support the prosecution by Mosby.  Each officer has to either reject the settlement which means they are still liable in a civil suit for damages or they accept the settlement at no financial cost.  Accepting the settlemen would probably require them to accept responsibility for Grey’s injuries which could be used against them in the criminal trial.  That is why cities hold off on these settlements until after the criminal proceedings are completed.  The Grey family attorney practices in criminal law is also a big supporter of Mosby.  This early action really appears to put the officers in a bind.  It will be interesting to see how they respond.

  2. sisterhood

    “Abner Louima received $8.75 million ($11.8 in today’s dollars) in 1997 after being tortured and sexually assaulted by a New York City police officer. In that case, Mr. Louima suffered severe internal injuries, the officer was found guilty of the assault, and a second officer was convicted of holding Louima down while the officer attacked him.”

    Lovely. I guess certain readers will somehow defend this, also.

    Oh, and here is the autopsy, BP.
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-freddie-gray-autopsy-20150623-story.html

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    “In a statement, Lt. Gene Ryan, the union’s president, said the agreement “threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City government.”

    This police union president has blinders on, of far more value on a police horse than on a person charged with leadership responsibility and assumed to have a modicum of critical thinking skills. Who cares about the relationship between the police and the government? The police are just an extension of the government. The real concern should be for the relationship between the police and all the rest of the citizens.

    Is there any reason to believe that the government of Baltimore really gives a damn about any of this beyond saving money and getting the sheep back to pasture as soon as possible? I think not.

    Note this quote: ““This settlement is being proposed solely because it is in the best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation. . . ”

    Oink!

    1. Frankly

      Who cares about the relationship between the police and the government?

      It should have read “threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City politicians.”

      You should care about this just as you should care about the relationship between politicians and the military.

      I do chuckle a bit about the predicament that cops find themselves in.  They are the scapegoats in the political strategy of their politician benefactors.  Quite frankly, they have made a deal with the Devil and now the Devil is back demanding his payment.

      After decades of failed liberal policies culminating in six years of devastating Obama hope and change, the black urban community is a powder-keg starting to blow.  And cops are on the front line working to keep the rest of us safe from this power keg blowing into other neighborhoods.  Instead of joining with the cops to implement the REAL solutions to the expanding list of black community problems, these politicians stubborn cling to their old ways and ideas… and point the finger of blame at the cops knowing full well that their political opponents will reliably come to the defense of the cops.   And then the finger of blame can also be extended to those political adversaries.

      It is a brilliant political move but fraught with a huge risk that the black community does not figure out they are being played, the cops don’t get fed up and their union divorces from its old political “friends”, and that the attacks on law enforcement don’t push more moderate voters away.

      So far so good… the black community still cannot see nor accept the truth, and the police unions are too greedy to give up their abusive but monetarily-rewarding political relationships and voters are still confused from the shallow and sensationalist reporting from the media.

      1. David Greenwald

        “I do chuckle a bit about the predicament that cops find themselves in. ”

        I’m not sure why you chuckle. The police supported the old policies and when the old policies blew up in their face, they found themselves with few dance partners. Kind of what happened here in Davis. The cops are not innocent victims here however – they got away with too much crap for too long BECAUSE of their money.

        1. Frankly

          Like most conservatives, I support law enforcement but not their unions.  Democrats support the unions, but not law enforcement.  Yes, it does cause a chuckle.

          Note that a big reason that there are too many bad apple cops is because of the unions.

          You get to have your politically-advantageous narrative cake and eat it too.

        2. Frankly

          Like many issues, you seem to fail to see shades of variation in the position of Democrats.

          Where are the policy demands from Democrats for anything dealing with the unions?

          1. Don Shor

            I’m not sure what you mean by “policy demands” but there is a clear split in the Democratic party and unions about education reform.

          2. Don Shor

            Also, in case you hadn’t noticed, there was a clear split between the police union and Mayor DeBlasio in NYC. Clearly no love lost there.

        3. Frankly

          There is no split in the Democrat Party related to teachers unions.  Point me to any significant proof of that?

          There is no dicernable split in the Democrat Party about unions.

          The President comes out for every media event of any cop on black event, but crickets on all of the cop killings.  And mostly silent on the black on black killing that occur every few minutes in this once great country.

          Come on Don and David, Democrats are unified.  You keep making that point.  It is the Republicans are in conflict… and you mention that with glee as if it is a sign that they are broken and unfit.

          Democrats are unified in leftist ideology.

          You mistake independents for Democrats. Just like you leave them out of your digs on the Republicans.

          There is no nuance in Democrats.  The nuance left that Party about 8 years ago.

          The Democrats defend unions and we get crappy cops and crappy teachers as a result.

          1. Don Shor

            You must have missed the campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction in California last year. And in Chicago.

            Come on Don and David, Democrats are unified. You keep making that point. It is the Republicans are in conflict… and you mention that with glee as if it is a sign that they are broken and unfit.

            Huh?
            No, they aren’t. No, I don’t. No, David doesn’t. No, we aren’t gleeful.
            Democrats are clearly split between Sanders supporters and the centrist establishment types. Unions are not nearly the factor in Democratic party politics that they used to be. Leftists don’t consider the Democratic Party to be leftist — just ask one. I’m sure some who post here would be happy to enlighten you.
            It’s been really weird interacting with you the last few weeks. You seem particularly fixated on making everything partisan, getting in partisan comments about everything, turning every thread into a fight about politics, fighting with phantom liberals, seeing everything in narrow dichotomous terms. It’s actually pretty dispiriting.

      2. Frankly

        You must have missed the campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction in California last year. 

        You mean the election where Democrats elected the old status quo union-connected candidate?

        1. David Greenwald

          “You mean the election where Democrats elected the old status quo union-connected candidate?”

          You mean in a tough fought, narrowly split election? The point wasn’t that the union-connected candidate didn’t win, but rather that there is a split.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    There are a number of facts that the Vanguard and these articles cited ignore. Do they not want an honest debate? The comparisons noted also are beyond a stretch.

    1. A witness at the scene claimed that Mr. Gray was purposefully throwing himself into the van walls. (After release and public pressure, he recanted his observations.)*

    2. Reports have surfaced that Mr. Gray has a history of trying to injure himself while in police custody.

    3. Maryland has a $400,000 settlement cap for police brutality cases. It used to be $100,000.

    4. A Prince George County verdict of $11.5 million was reduced by the Court of Appeals to $400,000. (See #3.)

    5. Last night on a fair and balanced Fox News program – which had a defense and prosecution lawyer at hand – they mentioned these facts, which I verified. These two lawyers also stated that over a number of years, there have been approximately 120 police brutality cases nationwide that have reached settlements, and the total of all of those cases is less than $6.4 million.

    6. These two lawyers said they have never seen a case settle this early. In fact, there may not even be a case filed!!

    7. If a case were filed, there would be discovery, depositions, autopsy, and evidence that might aid the “side” of the police department.

    8. Since there will be 6 separate trials, will all six require a finding of guilt in order to avert more riots?

    9. Is the mayor’s husband part of the Freddie Gray legal team? Or any of her cronies?

    10. sisterhood and others, for the record: Freddie Gray wasn’t shot 43 times; Mr. Gray wasn’t tortured; and Mr. Gray wasn’t beaten in the middle of the night by a dozen police officers after a high speed chase. In fact, there is an eyewitness account that Mr. Gray was purposefully trying to injure himself, and at least one alleged instance where he attempted to injure himself while in police custody.

    11. Scams and false claims against businesses are a common occurrence in many urban areas. They are popular enough to even have their own urban moniker.

    This easily looks like a political payoff, and more incompetence in Baltimore leadership.

    *Note: see how I do cite a contrary view?

    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bs-md-state-damage-cap-20150330-story.html

    1. David Greenwald

      TBD:

      A few things quickly. For the purposes of liability it doesn’t matter if he intentionally attempted to harm himself (which is far from proven) because police failed to secure him in place and they failed to administer prompt medical attention.

      “Maryland has a $400,000 settlement cap for police brutality cases. It used to be $100,000.” – I actually did mention this (though not the exact number), but it’s not relevant because the family would have sued in federal court which has no limitations.

      I did mention that it was unusual for the case to settle this early and speculated on why that is the case.

      “If a case were filed, there would be discovery, depositions, autopsy, and evidence that might aid the “side” of the police department.” Of course.

      “Since there will be 6 separate trials, will all six require a finding of guilt in order to avert more riots?” I don’t know.

      1. TrueBlueDevil

        I’m not a lawyer, but it could be a mitigating factor. It is also all in how the lawyers spin it, and if fit goes to a jury, who knows.

        The $400,000 cap is relevant as this could be used as leverage to get a better deal for the city in negotiations for the family, and / or the family will have to wait years and years to get into federal court (that is my guess, I could be wrong). That means the lawyers will likely have to wait years and years to get paid, too, since odds are high they would be working on contingency. There may be other legal limitations I am unaware of.

        Mr. Coleman is the expert here. But the only reason I can see why one case settles for more than 120 cases combined is politics. And possibly incompetence.

        1. David Greenwald

          One of the duties that the police have is to prevent someone from harming themselves. They failed to do that here which is why they are facing murder charges.

        2. PhilColeman

          If you are referring to me, I’m most flattered with association of the term, “expert.” But my knowledge of tort law is somewhere between amateur and pedestrian.

           

        3. Frankly

          One of the duties that the police have is to prevent someone from harming themselves. They failed to do that here which is why they are facing murder charges.

          That being the case the police should convince urban blacks to run from the Democrat Party.

          Seriously though, do you get the absurdity of this demand… that the police are responsible for not preventing a suspect from harming himself/herself?

          Are you not in favor of decriminalizing drug possession?  So a cop sees someone shooting up and are supposed to do what?

          Failing to prevent someone from harming themselves is not murder.  That is silly.

          1. David Greenwald

            ittle different between that and failing to secure him in the van and failing to get him medical attention.

      2. zaqzaq

        I thought one factor was the individuals earning potential.  The greater the potential the more the case is worth.  Gray does not appear to be a high let alone moderate wage earner.  It would be nice if the jury could consider how many lives he destroyed selling addictive street drugs in his community and factor that harm into the equation.  How about recouping the cost of all of those arrests and the cost of prosecution from his failure of a family.

        1. Davis Progressive

          one factor in calculating monetary damages is future earning potential.  however, the bigger damages are generally non-monetary ones.

          “How about recouping the cost of all of those arrests and the cost of prosecution from his failure of a family.”

          why don’t you research that one, i think it would be unprecedented.

        2. zaqzaq

          DP,

          I stated “It would be nice” knowing full well that that would not happen.  Just my sense of equity.  As a common street criminal (low level drug dealer) Grey does not appear to have been of any benefit to society as a whole.  He may have some value to family and friends but no loss to the community as a whole.  Just one less career street criminal.

          The bigger question is how do you change the career path for individuals such as Grey so that they do not work towards the criminal history that he had accomplished.

        3. Topcat

          The bigger question is how do you change the career path for individuals such as Grey so that they do not work towards the criminal history that he had accomplished.

          Yes, that is a big issue for society and the future of people living in disadvantaged areas where poverty and crime are so prevalent.

      1. Davis Progressive

        right now it looks like two issues that the police cannot explain away and which have basically admitted guilt – failure to secure the prisoner and failure to seek prompt medical attention.

  5. Anon

    To hold the city accountable under the applicable federal statute, the Gray family’s attorneys would have to prove not only that the officers’ actions or inaction caused Gray’s injuries but that they reflected the policy or custom of the Baltimore Police Department.”
    The Sun continues, “Given that the U.S. Justice Department is presently investigating — at the mayor’s request — whether Baltimore police engage in a pattern and practice of civil rights violations, the city might well have figured that the Gray family’s chances at a mega-verdict, should the case go to trial, were unusually high.””

    The Freddie Gray case was never about race – 1) the officers involved were both black and white; 2) there is a pattern of “rough rides” being given to detainees, in which the city has previously had to pay out millions of dollars in settlements.  I believe the city settled before any civil suit was filed or criminal case decided because it did not want a court to investigate the practice of “rough rides” by the police in the city of Baltimore.  See:
    http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-gray-rough-rides-20150423-story.html

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Good article! A few points.

      I’m not sure why the Sun equates a DOJ investigation with a “good chance”.

      One person here who was highlighted had “unspecified damages”. Huh? The three cases I then noted happened 10, 20, and 35 years ago. Does that denote a pattern and practice?

      This article shows how a $7.4 Million verdict was reduced to $219,000 due to a cap.

      I do think any police officer who has been shown to have more than one “rough ride” should either be fired, or be given the single most unpleasant job within the department. I could be very creative. They have to purge any bad apples, and also have a visible example.

    2. Davis Progressive

      “the officers involved were both black and white”

      that doesn’t mean it wasn’t about race and it doesn’t matter if was about race specifically or not.  civil rights violations are not just race-based.

  6. hpierce

    “One of the duties that the police have is to prevent someone from harming themselves. They failed to do that here which is why they are facing murder charges.”  Perhaps Mr Gray was seeking “assisted suicide”.  If so,all charges against the officers should be dismissed.  

    1. Davis Progressive

      i hesitate to respond as i sense you’re not being serious here, but this would not constitute assisted suicide – which would have to be lawful in the state and administered by a doctor.

  7. tribeUSA

    Two points I have questions about:

    (1) The seat-belt rule for the van had reportedly been in effect for only a few days before Gray was arrested. I believe this was a new departmental policy, not a new state law–do criminal charges have weight for such safety violations that are only departmental policies; and not laws?

    (2) The only part of the whole story that bothered me (after all the seat belt rule was only a few days old, and they had been operating without this rule for years), from a moral standpoint, was the failure to get medical help speedily; despite the reports that while he was being moved into the van for the first time; and on two later stops, he reported trouble breathing. Does anyone know if it is common for arrestees to falsely claim they are having an urgent medical condition; perhaps to avoid having to go to jail right away (get to go to a hospital, which is a much more pleasant environment than a jail, and perhaps get a cushy bed and maybe see a pretty nurse or doctor instead of being stuck right away, and for a long time, with other ugly mugs like his own in jail)? There are many asthmatics young and old, and often in stressful situations they can develop difficulty in breathing; unless false claims by arrestees are common I’m surprised he wasn’t taken to a hospital pronto; seems very callous and humanly and professionally negligent, perhaps to a manslaughter level.

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      False medical claim – it is not uncommon. There have also been a number of escapes of criminals or would-be-criminals from hospitals, break out, mix up, etc.

      1. Tia Will

        TBD

        while it is true that false medical claims are not uncommon based on direct ER experience and second hand knowledge of the behavior of those incarcerated,this is no excuse for the police, who are not medical care providers, to ignore the medical complaints of those in their custody. While in the custody of the police, the well being of the detainee is the direct responsibility of the detaining officers whether or not they believe the claim.

        1. tribeUSA

          Yes, I guess that is the bottom line–after such a strenuous physical scuffle during the arrest; one would think that the officers might consider the possibility the Gray might not be faking it when he was telling them about his trouble breathing (also asthma is not rare; so a genuine symptom of trouble breathing by arrestees shouldn’t be rare). Gotta let the doctors determine whether or not the complaint has a medical basis.

  8. tribeUSA

    Anon–yes, I remember seeing this article earlier this year–that’s a lot of stops and a long time to be meandering about town; for somebody arrested after a strenuous physical scuffle who then repeatedly told the officers about his breathing difficulties.

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