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Baltimore County to pay $1.5 million to mother of teen who died after altercation with police officer

Baltimore County to pay $1.5 million to family of teen who died after altercation with police officer.

Baltimore County will pay $1.5 million to the mother of a 17-year-old boy who died after an off-duty county police officer chased him in Randallstown and allegedly put him in a chokehold in 2012.

The settlement is among the largest ever to be reached in Baltimore County in a case alleging police misconduct.

The teen's mother, Chris S. Brown, said she pursued civil litigation because she felt she did not get justice in the criminal case. Officer James D. Laboard was acquitted of criminal charges in the death of her son, Christopher Brown, a student at Randallstown High School.

"It doesn't bring him back; it doesn't replace his life," she said.

County officials had not publicly announced the settlement and are not required to put it to a public vote. Federal court records show that a judge signed a settlement order in the federal lawsuit in late April, though details were not disclosed.

The Baltimore Sun obtained details of the settlement after submitting an information request to the county law office.

Brown's death sparked protests at the time, and the Maryland General Assembly passed "Christopher's Law" in 2014, requiring law enforcement officers to be trained on topics that include cardiopulmonary resuscitation and cultural diversity.

Police said Laboard, who is black, chased Brown after a group of teens threw rocks at the officer's Randallstown home. Brown's death was ruled a homicide, and prosecutors said the officer placed Brown in a chokehold and killed him. Laboard's defense lawyers said the death was accidental.

The incident occurred months after Trayvon Martin, 17 was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. Since then, a series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, including Eric Garner, 43, who died after being placed in a chokehold by a New York City officer, has sparked a national dialogue about the use of excessive force.

In September, Baltimore officials approved a $6.4 million settlement with the family of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody in April 2015.

Laboard, 35, remains on the county police force. He did not respond to a request for comment.

He was charged with manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in Brown's death, and in 2013, a county jury found him not guilty.

Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County police, said the department conducted an internal investigation after Brown's death but declined to comment further.

"We cannot comment on the nature of the investigation or the outcome because it's a personnel matter," she said. "We have no comment on the settlement itself, other than to note that this is a tragic incident for everyone involved."

Brown said she has tried to remember her son by doing good works in the community — for instance, by raising money for schoolchildren. She also worked to pass the state legislation known as Christopher's Law.

"We'll always keep Christopher's memory alive," she said.

In a statement to The Sun, Brown's lawyer, Russell Neverdon, said he could not comment in detail on the settlement or the allegations in the lawsuit but was "grateful that we were able to reach a successful settlement for the family."

In Baltimore, settlements of more than $25,000 are subject to a public vote by the Board of Estimates.

The Gray settlement exceeded the combined total of more than 120 others involving allegations of city police brutality or misconduct since 2011. Of those, only six exceeded $200,000. In many of the cases, the city does not admit wrongdoing

In Baltimore County, legal settlements are not subject to review by the County Council, according to County Attorney Mike Field. Typically, the county administrative officer, Fred Homan, or the budget and finance director, Keith Dorsey, has the final say, Field said.

Field said he could not recall a settlement larger than that in the Brown case. He declined to comment on the allegations, and the settlement paperwork was not available Friday.

In 2013, the county reached a $1 million settlement with Odatei Mills, who was shot by police in 2009. In recent years, most county settlements related to allegations against police have been under $100,000.

Representatives of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Police Chief Jim Johnson declined to comment on the Brown settlement.

So did David Rose, second vice president for the Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4, saying he did not know details of the agreement.

Several members of the County Council said they did not know about the payout. The county law office is not required to notify them.

"Settlements of this magnitude really need to be communicated to the County Council," said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican.

Laboard, who was hired in 2002, is assigned to the traffic section and his salary is $76,963, according to the Police Department.

Chris Brown alleged in her lawsuit that her son's constitutional rights were violated "because of his status as a young African American male." The initial lawsuit, filed last year, named Laboard, Johnson, the Baltimore County Police Department and the county as defendants.

The lawsuit blames the county for a "culture of silence and dishonesty concerning police misconduct."

The lawsuit alleges that the Police Department did not adequately investigate civilian complaints of officer misconduct and that it "created an atmosphere where the most violent police officers felt assured that their most brazen acts of misconduct would not be swiftly and effectively investigated and prosecuted."

The lawsuit states that Christopher Brown was walking through his neighborhood in June 2012, as he often did, to strengthen his leg after knee surgery. The night of his death, he saw a group of friends, and as he was walking toward them, he heard a noise and the friends started running in different directions.

The teen, who could not run because he was wearing a knee brace, hid in some bushes, the lawsuit says. One of his friends called to see if he was all right, and Laboard heard Brown's cellphone ringing.

Laboard dragged him out of the bushes, beat and punched him, and placed him in "headlock/chokehold" until Brown stopped breathing, the lawsuit alleged. The lawsuit says the amount of force used by Laboard "was lethal, unjustified, unnecessary, unreasonable, and excessive."

Councilman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat whose district includes Randallstown, said he trusted that the lawyers on both sides came to the best conclusion they could. He learned of the settlement from The Sun.

"In no way would I want to put a value on a young man's life," Jones said. "Obviously, this agreement is satisfactory to the family and satisfactory to the county, or they never would have reached the agreement."

alisonk@baltsun.com

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