Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said on Wednesday that the city made the “right fiscal decision” by awarding an unprecedented $6.4 million payout in the Freddie Gray case even before his family had filed suit and before the six city cops charged in the 25-year-old’s arrest and transport have even gone to trial.
Rawlings-Blake also hinted that fear of unrest and citywide “divisiveness” may have influenced the decision to preemptively settle. (RELATED: Former Baltimore State’s Attorney Blames Marilyn Mosby For Violent Crime Spike)
“The decision to settle the civil claims is completely unrelated to the criminal case the six officers currently face,” Rawlings-Blake announced during a press conference on Wednesday, shortly after the Board of Estimates unanimously approved the payout.
“The city’s decision to settle the civil case should not be interpreted as passing any judgement on guilt or innocence of the officers. This settlement is about making the right fiscal decision for the city of Baltimore.”
Gray died on April 19, a week after he suffered a head injury while riding in the back of a police van following an arrest. The six officers involved in the case face charges ranging from misconduct to second-degree depraved-heart murder. Baltimore police union chief Gene Ryan slammed the city’s settlement as a “ridiculous reaction” that threatens to harm the relationship between city cops and the public. (RELATED: Baltimore Police Union Slams City, Police Leadership For Obstructing Investigation)
In one curious statement, Rawlings-Blake indicated that the city would be in a bind regardless of the outcome of a potential civil suit.
“We must weigh the potential financial cost of defending the lawsuit in court and the potential exposure to the citizens of Baltimore if we are unsuccessful, and for that matter, if we are successful in court,” Rawlings-Blake said.
Rawlings-Blake did not clarify what potential exposure to Baltimore residents would result from a civil suit decision in the officers’ favor.
Baltimore did erupt in mass rioting and looting days after Gray’s death. (RELATED: Killing Fields: Baltimore Ties Record For City’s Deadliest Month Despite 275,000 Fewer Residents)
“In this case, faced with the prospect of significant legal expenses involved in an extended federal lawsuit, as well as the potential liability that could come with an unfavorable jury verdict, our city’s attorneys came to the conclusion that the $6.4 million settlement is in the best interest of protecting taxpayers,” Rawlings-Blake continued, while also acknowledging that “it is relatively unusual for the city to choose to settle a civil claim involving alleged police misconduct prior to the resolution of a criminal case.”
She did claim that the city has settled prior to the adjudication of criminal charges in a limited number of cases.
“The purpose of the civil settlement is to bring an important measure of closure to the Gray family, to the community, and to this city, and to avoid years and years of protracted civil litigation and the potential harm to the community and the divisiveness which might result,” Rawlings-Blake concluded.
The settlement decision will likely force attorneys for the six Baltimore officers to push for a change of venue of the trials, which are set to begin in October. (RELATED: Marilyn Mosby Downplays Link Between Freddie Gray Riots And Murder Spike, But Her Math Doesn’t Add Up)
According to The Baltimore Sun, the Gray family’s attorneys began negotiating with the city nearly four months ago.