Another meeting of the city spending board, another chunk of (taxpayers’) change paid to litigants who say police officers used excessive force with them.
Or so it seemed today at Baltimore’s Board of Estimates. The smaller settlement – $60,000 – is for the better-known case, a highly-publicized incident involving a citizen recording police officers as they arrest someone else.
The $75,000 payout was to a man who was pursued by police and ended up with a fractured and dislocated ankle.
The $135,000 combined expenditures for the two settlements bring to $280,000 the amount of money approved so far this year in police-involved cases – enough to pay several police officers’ salaries for a year.
And in another aspect of the police-use-of-force issue showing up as a spending item at the same Board of Estimates meeting, the board approved a bid from Taser International to provide police body cameras for more than 2,500 officers.
(The expenditure will be in the millions but the city has not released the exact amount yet, citing an unspecified problem in the pricing documents.)
Finally in an odd convergence of these three spending actions, Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser makes not just the body cameras being purchased but the police stun gun weapons police already use – and which the two litigants say officers used on them improperly.
Alleged Assault, Battery
The first plaintiff, Kianga Mwamba, originally sought $2 million from the city to settle her case. It stems from a March 2014 incident in which she used her cell phone to video record someone else getting arrested and then ended up being arrested herself.
Mwamba brought the case against officers Stephanie Uruchima, Marlon Koushall, Erick Jackson and Kelly Larson.
She sought damages from the city for alleged assault, battery, “illegal arrest,” false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violations of a provision of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. The incident occurred in 2014.
(Prosecutors dropped all charges against Mwamba and no charges were filed against the officers.)
“He’s Burning Me!”
According to the law department, “the Plaintiff was traveling northbound Harford Road and stopped to record an interaction between Baltimore City Police Officers and an individual being arrested.
“An Officer saw the Plaintiff and told her to pull over and park if she wished to continue doing so because she was blocking traffic,” the law department memo continues. “The situation escalated and resulted in an Officer using a stun gun to subdue and arrest the Plaintiff. There are conflicting accounts regarding whether the Plaintiff’s car struck an officer on the scene. The Plaintiff also claims to have been punched several times during the arrest.”
Because of “conflicting factual issues and given the uncertainties and unpredictability of jury verdicts,” the parties agreed to settle the matter for $60,000.
After the incident in March of 2014, Mwamba gave newspaper and television interviews in which she claimed officers attacked her for using her cell phone to record their arrest of someone else. She also had cell phone video of her own arrest.
In the interviews, Mwamba claimed that officers used a Taser on her, threw her to the ground, and called her a “dumb bitch.”(Those words can be heard on the video, as can the sound of a woman’s voice saying “Ow! He’s burning me! He’s burning me!”)
Mwamba also accused officers of deleting her video of the incident from her cell phone while she was in custody.She later retrieved her video using a back up system.
“It gives me chills,” she said in an interview with WBAL-TV that can be seen on the internet. “Nobody can tell me I can’t record.”
The $75,000 payment is connected to a case brought by Leonard Key against Sgt. Fontaine Smallwood and Officers Norman Rogers and Michael Mercado for alleged assault, battery, false arrest, false imprisonment and violations of provisions of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. No date was given in the memo to the board.
According to the law department, one of the officers approached Key after he was pointed out by an officer who is not a party to the lawsuit.
“When one of the officers approached the Plaintiff, he ran into the street and collided with the vehicle occupied by the Defendants. The officer who initially pursued the Plaintiff fell. The Plaintiff continued running.”
“The Defendants continued pursuing the Plaintiff on foot until they apprehended him. A ‘stun gun’ was used to take the Plaintiff into custody. The Plaintiff contends the Defendants used excessive force on him.
“The Plaintiff was transported by ambulance from the scene of the incident to Johns Hopkins ER for evaluation. X-rays showed a fracture/dislocation of the left ankle. His ankle was adjusted and splinted before he was transported to Central Booking.
“The Plaintiff subsequently had an open reduction and internal fixation of his left ankle and went to Johns Hopkins for physical therapy and follow-up medical treatment. The Plaintiff incurred medical bills in excess of $20,000.00 related to this incident. He claims to need an additional surgery.
“As a result of the incident, the Plaintiff filed suit seeking an unspecified amount of damages. Because of conflicting factual issues and objective injuries suffered by the Plaintiff, and given the uncertainties and unpredictability of jury verdicts, the parties propose to settle the matter for a total sum of $75,000.00 in return for a dismissal of the litigation.”