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Baltimore police brutality settlements worth $113K on agenda

City officials are set to consider $113,000 in payments to settle two lawsuits alleging police brutality, including a case in which a well-known 77-year-old barber's arm was broken during an arrest.

Baltimore's Board of Estimates is scheduled to vote Wednesday on an award of $63,000 to Lenny Clay, the West Baltimore barber at Lenny's House of Naturals whose case sparked protests in 2009. The spending panel also has before it a $50,000 settlement with Anthony Keyes, 42, whom officers shocked with a Taser before arresting him on charges that were later dismissed.

The city's Law Department recommended the settlements because of "conflicting factual and legal concerns" and the "unpredictability of jury verdicts."

James E. Clay, who goes by the name "Lenny," was arrested Dec. 23, 2009, after he struck a parked car and continued driving, the city said. Clay, who was 73 at the time, did not hear the officers directing him to pull over and eventually stopped his vehicle near Leeds Street and Palormo Avenue, city lawyers said.

The officers, Sgt. Robert Brown and Lt. Sean Mahoney, removed Clay from the car. During the arrest, Clay suffered a broken arm, according to city documents.

Clay filed a $26 million lawsuit against the officers, alleging battery, excessive force and gross negligence. Clay, whose regular barbershop clients have included Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, repeatedly denied the officers' allegations that he resisted arrest and appeared intoxicated.

Schmoke once referred to Clay as the "Mayor of Poppleton." Friends said the barber spent countless nights on the streets trying to talk kids out of selling drugs, raised money for Pop Warner football league uniforms, and gave money to send talented students to private schools.

The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, who was among those protesting Clay's arrest, on Monday called the incident "shameful."

"It was egregious, violent behavior," he said. "It really outraged the community. It's a shame the city has to foot the bill for police violence."

Clay did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

City Solicitor George Nilson said he was initially reluctant to settle the Clay case. But he said it would have been difficult to show that Clay had damaged another vehicle or was intoxicated.

"Those things were a little soft in the proof," he said.

Nilson added that he believed the officers involved did not intend to hurt Clay, but that he did incur significant medical expenses.

"He's an older gentleman and he was unquestionably injured," Nilson said.

The other case proposed for settlement involves the Feb. 3, 2011, arrest of Keyes, who said he was visiting a friend to sell a car when officers conducting a raid accused him of attempting to purchase drugs. He was taken down, shocked with a Taser and injured, according to the city. Keyes filed a $375,000 lawsuit, which would be dismissed if the city approves the settlement.

Baltimore typically spends about $3.5 million a year defending the Police Department against lawsuits. About 65 percent of the cases against police allege excessive force, officials said.

Currently, the Police Department is $3.9 million over budget for the year, according to the city's budget office, though the total figure for legal expenses was not available Monday evening.

luke.broadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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