The City of Baltimore has reached a $3.5 million settlement with dozens of business owners whose properties were damaged in the unrest following the police-related death of Freddie Gray, ending a five-year legal saga.
Nearly 70 people, mostly business owners, sued the city in 2017 claiming officials failed to prevent the unrest that erupted after Gray’s death in April 2015, despite warnings the city would experience violence. Gray died from injuries he suffered in police custody.
More than 380 businesses, including many located south of North Avenue in West Baltimore, were damaged or destroyed. Property losses were estimated at nearly $13 million. Business were damaged all the way into Mount Vernon and downtown.
The settlement, agreed to Feb. 17, is half of the documented economic losses business owners were seeking, according to the City Solicitor’s Office.
“This lawsuit was not only about compensation, but about giving the plaintiffs a vehicle for their voices to be heard,” said Peter Hwang, attorney for the plaintiffs. “Through this lawsuit and the settlement their voices were heard loud and clear.”
The settlement does not include attorneys’ fees for the business owners. The Board of Estimates must approve the settlement by April 18 for it to become official. It has not yet appeared on the board’s agenda.
“The Solicitor’s Office believes that this resolution is in the best interests of Baltimore residents,” said James Bentley, a spokesman for Mayor Brandon Scott.
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Among the plaintiffs are the owners of the Fireside North Liquors on West North Avenue. The store was set on fire and one of the owners was beaten and robbed and the other was hurt trying to escape the flames. One person was later sentenced to five years in prison for setting the fire and ordered to pay nearly $380,000 in restitution to the owners.
“It isn’t so much the perpetrator; it’s the city, the mayor that I’m angry with,” owner John Chae said in 2015, referring to then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Chae declined to comment Tuesday when asked about the settlement.
Plaintiffs took particular issue with the response from the Baltimore Police Department, saying police seemingly did nothing to prevent property destruction during the unrest.
“Business owners helplessly watched their stores being looted and destroyed as [police] officers also simply watched and/or turned away, and let the destruction of property continue,” the complaint said.
City officials from the time took a different stance, saying they prioritized preventing the loss of life over the loss of property, calling the police’s handling of the ordeal a success and comparing the violence to unrest in other cities that was sparked by police killing an unarmed Black man.
“Despite having a population of approximately 200,000 fewer people than Baltimore, the Minneapolis unrest saw damage to 1,500 businesses, compared to 300 in the Gray unrest,” city attorneys wrote.