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Baltimore settles lawsuit claiming police horse bit disabled child

Baltimore settles lawsuit claiming police horse bit disabled child
Baltimore police officer Arturo Garvin removes the tack from his horse, Buster, in 2013, the 125th anniversary of the Baltimore Mounted Police. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

A Queen Anne's County woman has accepted $20,000 to end a lawsuit in which she alleged that a Baltimore police horse maimed her disabled daughter's left hand.

The August 2013 incident near the Inner Harbor began as Arianna Jacques, 8, reached from her wheelchair to pet Buster, a horse in the Police Department's mounted unit. It ended with the horse biting the girl's hand, according to a $1 million lawsuit filed last year by the girl's mother, Lisa Gillespie.

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The city recently settled the case with Gillespie, city solicitor George Nilson said Wednesday. Gillespie's attorney, Robert Joyce, declined to comment.

The settlement did not need approval from the Board of Estimates because it was less than $25,000.

In such settlements, the city and Police Department do not acknowledge any wrongdoing. In January, a judge ordered Gillespie and the city to try to resolve the case in mediation.

At the time of the incident, the mounted unit was providing security and crowd control for the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Before the incident, Arianna had the full use of only her left hand because of cerebral palsy, the lawsuit says. She used it to communicate and to operate her wheelchair. According to the lawsuit, when mounted officers approached Arianna and her mother, the child became excited and waved.

Officer Arturo Garvin told the girl that she could pet his horse, Buster, and lowered the horse's head. The officer assured Gillespie and Arianna the horse was friendly, according to the lawsuit, but the horse clamped down on the girl's hand.

A law firm hired by the city to defend officers responded in legal filings by saying the mother and child took a risk by petting the horse. Arianna needed two surgeries to repair damage to her hand, the lawsuit said.

Baltimore's mounted unit has a storied tradition as one of the oldest continuously operated mounted police divisions in the nation.

The unit, formed 127 years ago by a Confederate soldier who served under Stonewall Jackson, initially enforced the city's 6-mph speed limit for horse-drawn carriages. The unit had 24 draft horses in the 1980s, but that number has slipped in recent years, due in part to budget constraints.

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