Baltimore to settle lawsuit alleging 'rough ride' by police

City poised to settle two police misconduct suits, including one involving an alleged rough ride.

The Rawlings-Blake administration is poised to pay a woman $95,000 after an alleged 2012 "rough ride" in a Baltimore police van — a practice spotlighted by Freddie Gray's death.

The city's spending panel is expected to agree Wednesday to settle a federal lawsuit involving a now-28-year-old woman who claimed she was thrown in the back of a police van, left unbuckled and "maniacally" driven after her arrest at a party in Hampden. Christine Abbott said she was slammed against the van's wall during the ride, which left her feeling like "a piece of cargo."

A 350-word memo to the Board of Estimates says the settlement was related to Abbott's treatment during the arrest. It does not mention all of the allegations from her lawsuit, including her time in the van.

The memo prompted criticism Tuesday that the city was not providing a complete picture of the incident and the allegations of police brutality — an issue on which city officials have promised more transparency.

A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney who frequently represents plaintiffs in lawsuits against police, said a private briefing to members of the city's spending panel doesn't go far enough to inform the public. Abbott's allegations about her van ride should be included in the board memo, he said.

"All of it should be disclosed," Pettit said. "It's in everybody's best interest to know where the money is going and for what reasons."

The settlement comes as the city prepares for the trials of six officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport —and as a new University of Baltimore poll shows many city residents feel that they and their relatives have been treated unfairly by police.

Gray — whose family recently reached a $6.4 million settlement with the city — was injured while being transported in the van after his arrest in April, prosecutors allege. They say he was not placed in a seat belt and was not provided medical care by police. The 25-year-old's autopsy, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, states that he suffered a "high-energy injury" to his neck and spine, mostly likely as the van suddenly decelerated.

The six officers have maintained their innocence.

George Nilson, the city's solicitor, said cases that come before the board are complicated and "loaded with contested facts." Memos describing the incidents are written by private attorneys hired to represent officers and are condensed for brevity. He stressed that all members of the board are briefed on cases alleging excessive force by police.

Nilson said the alleged rough ride was not "a central issue in [Abbott's] case and did not produce any physical or other injuries that factored into the settlement." The summary memo focuses on Abbott's encounter with police, in which one of her breasts was left exposed.

Nilson said the settlement was paid based on the emotional damage caused by "the accidental falling of the claimant's sundress and the awkward effort to reattach it."

Since 2011, the city has paid nearly $13 million in settlements and court judgments for lawsuits alleging brutality and other police misconduct. In such settlements, the city and its officers do not acknowledge wrongdoing.

Abbott's case isn't the first time city officials have faced criticism for leaving details out of summaries provided to the five-member board. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake controls three board votes; the other two votes belong to Comptroller Joan Pratt and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Young rebuked the administration in February for an omission on a settlement memo. The administration did not tell the board that taxpayers had already paid $100,000 to settle brutality allegations against an officer, even though it was seeking approval for a $150,000 settlement involving the same officer.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for Young said the council president was briefed on Abbott's case, including her allegations of a rough ride. Young does not believe the administration was being evasive, spokesman Lester Davis said.

"He was given good background and even remembered the case" from media reporting in April, Davis said.

Pratt said a city lawyer told her in a briefing Monday about Abbott's allegations of a rough ride. Pratt said she also was told the settlement resulted from the incident detailed in the Board of Estimates memo, not from the van ride.

Pratt said she was satisfied with the information provided by the administration.

The incident involving Abbott took place after officers responded to complaints of a loud party in the 3800 block of Falls Road.

Abbott, an assistant librarian at the Johns Hopkins University, alleged in the lawsuit that officers cuffed her hands behind her back, leaving her "tossing around the interior of the police van." She suffered unspecified injuries from the arrest and the ride, the lawsuit stated.

"They were braking really short so that I would slam against the wall, and they were taking really wide, fast turns," she said in an April interview that mirrored allegations in her lawsuit. "I couldn't brace myself. I was terrified."

She added, "You feel like a piece of cargo. You don't feel human."

Abbott declined comment through an attorney Tuesday.

City settlements typically contain a clause that prohibits a plaintiff from discussing the matter publicly.

The settlement memo that appears on the board's agenda for Abbott's case only mentions her transport as a passing detail. "As a result of injuries sustained during her 2012 arrest, the plaintiff was transported to the hospital for treatment," the memo says.

The memo says a dispute arose after Officer Todd Edick attempted to cite Abbott's boyfriend, telling the man to put out his cigarette. When the man refused to cooperate, he and the officer began to argue and the man approached the officer, the memo says. Edick withdrew his Taser and Abbott allegedly attempted to prevent the officer from using it on the man.

Abbott also allegedly attempted to intervene as officers tried to arrest the man, the summary says. There was an altercation between Abbott and Officer Lee Grishkot during which Abbott's dress was ripped and one of her breasts was exposed. According to the board memo, Abbott claimed that Grishkot refused to allow her to pull up her dress, or call for a female officer to help her.

"Because of conflicting factual and legal issues involved, and given the uncertainties and unpredictability of jury verdicts, the parties propose to settle the matter for a total sum of $95,000.00 in return for a dismissal of the litigation," the summary states.

Grishkot, the van's driver, said in a March deposition that Abbott was not buckled into her seat belt. But the officers have denied that the van was driven recklessly.

On Tuesday, Grishkot declined to comment. Attempts to reach Edick were unsuccessful.

The board also is expected to approve a $125,000 settlement to a man shot in the arm and stomach by an officer in January 2013. Dameatrice Moore was shot as Officer Quinton Smith tried to break up a rowdy crowd in North Baltimore.

Smith said he was thrown against the ground, slammed into a wall and hit by people in the crowd. Afraid of passing out, he fired his service weapon, striking Moore and another person, according to the board summary. The city previously paid a $42,500 settlement to the other person.

An attorney for Smith referred all questions to the city solicitor's office.

The University of Baltimore poll was undertaken in response to the debate surrounding policing and alleged brutality in Baltimore and around the nation, said William Wells, survey research manager at theSchaefer Center for Public Policy.

The survey found that Baltimore residents are more likely than other Marylanders to say they or relatives have been treated unfairly by police. City residents also have less positive views of the effectiveness and racial impartiality of police.

For example, about 75 percent of Baltimore respondents agreed or strongly agreed that police use more force than necessary when dealing with minorities, nearly double the percentage from Maryland respondents as a whole. When it came to the community generally, 50 percent of Baltimore respondents agreed that police use more force than necessary, double the statewide percentage.

"People in Baltimore City seem to have a different perception of police than people in the state of Maryland and that perception looks more negative," said Ann Cotten, director of the Schaefer center. She presented preliminary results from the survey at a conference Tuesday.

The poll of more than 700 people was conducted by phone between Sept.1 and Oct. 2.

Baltimore Sun reporter Natalie Sherman contributed to this article.

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