Baltimore’s spending board approved three settlements Wednesday involving the Baltimore Police Department, including $500,000 to be paid to a 15-year-old boy after an officer shot him with a Taser.
Combined, the three settlements approved by the Board of Estimates totaled $885,000.
The board unanimously okayed a $500,000 settlement be paid to Sean Lewis Jr, who sued the city over Officer Christopher Florio’s use of a Taser on a minor. The complaint alleged violation of the Maryland Declaration of Rights, false arrest, false imprisonment and battery.
On May 15, 2018, Florio, a 10-year veteran at the time, responded to a call at a Baltimore City elementary school related to a disruptive person outside the school that had led to a school lockdown. Lewis, who was 15 at the time, was picking up his younger sibling from school. However, school officials denied his request and asked him to leave.
When officers including Florio arrived, Lewis was pacing in the street while yelling for his brother and at the police. Florio repeatedly asked the boy to leave the scene and said that his parents needed to pick his sibling up. After that, Lewis yelled back at Florio and stepped toward the officer, said Stephen Salsbury, the police department’s deputy solicitor.
Florio used his Taser on Lweis four separate times, Salsbury said. Even though Lewis did not serve any time for the arrest, he had to get surgical care to remove a Taser prong from one of genitals, Salsbury said.
“The trauma of a 15-year-old being arrested in front of their younger sibling is enough whether charges move forward,” said Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, a member of the spending board “I could only imagine the level of pain and trauma he was in.”
Following the incident, Florio was assigned to additional Taser and de-escalation training. Florio retired in March.
The Board of Estimates also unanimously approved a $310,000 settlement with Stanley Bass related to the disgraced Gun Trace Task Force.
On May 21, 2010, Bass was arrested and charged with multiple drug and firearms violations. Bass pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute and was sentenced to five years of incarceration. He served about 15 months before being released on parole.
Like several other lawsuits filed in the wake of the unit’s takedown, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office filed a motion to vacate Bass’s conviction.
Although there weren’t any signs of wrongdoing in the arrest, Salsbury said, one of the arresting officers worked on a prior unit with GTTF Officer Momodu Gondo, who, according to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office motion to vacate Bass’s conviction, said that unit also stole money from suspects and distributed it among the unit members.
Currently, all of the arresting officers in the case are still with BPD and are eligible for their pension, Salsbury said.
Salsbury said the Gondo testimony questioned the credibility of one of the officers which, in this case, was enough for a settlement. Following the approval, the spending board suggested an internal investigation for similar cases going forward.
After cooperating with the federal investigation into the GTTF, Gondo was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2019. He was one of 12 officers who either pleaded guilty or were convicted of crimes related to their actions while serving as officers.
The latest GTTF settlement is the 41st reached by the city in connection with the rogue police task force. More than $22.6 million has been paid out in settlements and an untold amount spent on litigation fees related to the cases.
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The largest of those settlements, $7.9 million, was paid to Umar Burley and Brent Matthews, who both went to federal prison for drugs that were planted in their vehicle in 2010.
The board also approved a $75,000 settlement with James Handley, who alleged the department discriminated and retaliated against him based on his race and gender.
Handley, who left the BPD as a major in 2020, filed a suit against the department before his departure, alleging he was discriminated against because he is a white male, and was retaliated against both for engaging in protected activity and due to his race. Handley said a majority of the misconduct happened when Darryl DeSousa led the department for four months in 2018.
Prior to DeSousa being named police commissioner, Handley was promoted to acting inspector. However, Handley’s rank was revoked when DeSousa became commissioner and he returned to being a major.
When the city sought to dismiss Handley’s suit, a federal judge let it go forward, noting DeSousa systematically removed other white officers from command-level positions, Salsbury said.
In his suit, Handley said he attended a retreat for commanders where DeSousa said BPD suffered from “PMS” because it’s “pale, male and stale.” DeSousa said there that he wanted to diversify the department. Handley said that DeSousa’s replacement of white officers with Black officers at the command-level staff demonstrates that DeSousa was discriminating against white officers, according to agenda documents.
Salsbury also said settlement was the best course of action in this case because DeSousa’s credibility, should he testify, would be hurt since he pleaded guilty to failing to file federal tax returns in 2019 and was sentenced to 10 months in prison.