The Board of Estimates has approved $30,000 to settle another excessive force lawsuit against a Baltimore police officer, but the city’s top lawyer says police misconduct suits are not on the rise.
In an interview with The Brew, George A. Nilson, the city solicitor, did not dispute reports that the city has paid more than $900,000 to settle police-involved lawsuits and verdicts so far this year.
But he said that many recent cases involved disputes that were several years old. “You can’t draw the conclusion that we are paying more for [police misconduct] because some of these cases are five and six years old.”
In the latest settlement, a Baltimore resident says police beat him on July 9, 2009 after he called them in a domestic abuse complaint. Christensen Threatt, 33, said he was kicked and punched by Officer Lawrence J. Smith Jr.
Threatt originally sought $1 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages, according to Nilson. “We think this settlement was reasonable for the city given all the circumstances.”
Nilson said he did an informal survey of the cost of settling police lawsuits in major U.S. cities and found “we’re doing pretty well. On a per capita base the city pays much less than New York, where the costs for alleged police misconduct are staggering.”
The City Council is expected to hold hearings next month regarding the use of taxpayer dollars to resolve police-involved litigation.
Councilman Mary Pat Clarke (14th) said she hopes to determine “if there is a way where training, for example, could eliminate some of these costs.” As The Brew reported in July, Clarke became concerned when she realized that the 2012 city budget includes $1.9 million to settle lawsuits involving alleged misconduct by police.
“That money could have provided a lot of youth jobs,” Clarke said today, noting that the city’s summer youth jobs program was cut this year.
In his lawsuit, Threatt said he vomited blood following his alleged beating by Officer Smith and was placed in a city jail cell for two days before he was able to post bail. Threatt was charged with one count of second-degree assault, which was later dropped.
Last month, the Board of Estimates paid $100,000 to Lornell Felder, a 65-year-old Govans man, who said he was badly beaten in 2009 by plainclothes officers who suspected him of rolling a marijuana joint.