Baltimore’s spending panel approved paying $1.1 million to settle police misconduct lawsuits, including the first two settlements related to the city’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
The Gun Trace Task Force cases account for a combined $600,000, according to the Board of Estimates agenda for Wednesday. Such a sum is a substantially higher figure than previously disclosed.
The city previously said it would settle the cases of William James and Ivan Potts for $32,000 each after Maryland’s highest court ruled April 24 the city was liable for the judgments. The city had argued the task force officers acted so far outside the scope of their employment that the city should not be responsible for any payouts.
The city now says it had a conditional agreement called a “high-low” with both James and Potts that if the high court’s ruling was in their favor, they would receive $200,000 and $400,000, respectively. Had the court ruled in favor of the city, the men would have received the lower figure.
The five-member Board of Estimates unanimously approved the payments, following guidance from the law department.
The city’s lawyers wrote that there is “no way to sugarcoat” Baltimore’s challenges because of the court’s ruling.
“Now that we have a binding ruling from the state’s highest court that the extraordinary criminality that characterized the GTTF scandal is sufficiently consistent with, and sufficiently in furtherance of, the mission of the BPD, the fiscal impact on the city will be substantial,” the document said.
However, acting City Solicitor Dana Moore said Tuesday night that it would be a “mistake” to say that these two cases could set a new standard for payouts on the dozens of claims against the Gun Trace Task Force.
“The test was a test and it isn’t going to be tested again,” Moore said. “The test is over and we are in true litigation mode. We will look at each case as it is presented and we will look at how best to resolve them or not.”
James and Potts alleged that officers planted guns on them, a claim repeated in many other cases. That was one reason the city used theirs as test cases. In settling the two cases, the city stipulated the facts were true, while arguing the city should not have to pay the settlement amount.
Most of the lawsuits say the city failed to supervise members of the Gun Trace Task Force, who were convicted of federal racketeering charges for robbing residents, falsifying probable cause and lying on official documents, and in some cases taking drugs. Some officers also acknowledged planting evidence.
The convicted officers received sentences of seven to 25 years in federal prison.
The officers, including those who cooperated with the federal investigation, denied planting guns, even those who admitted to years of robberies and lying in police reports. In a letter from prison earlier this year, convicted Sgt. Wayne Jenkins touted the dismissal of one lawsuit in which a man’s allegation that a gun was planted by the officers was refuted by body camera footage.
Jenkins, who pleaded guilty to years of robberies and selling drugs, said he “never planted drugs, firearms or stole money,” though in at least one instance a BB gun was planted to help him.
Potts filed a lawsuit against the officers before the sweeping federal indictments against members of the Gun Trace Task Force. He has since been indicted in a pending gang conspiracy case brought by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
James, meanwhile, was fatally shot in the spring of 2019, before his lawsuit was settled. The case has proceeded through his estate.
Paul Zukerberg, a defense attorney representing Potts, said he and his client are “thrilled” with the outcome.
“Mr. Potts can’t get back the 20 months he served in prison, but we’re pleased that the Board of Estimates stepped up and made a substantial monetary settlement,” he said.
Mandy Miliman, a defense attorney for James, said she and James’ estate are “very, very happy with the settlement.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy to enter into this agreement,” she said. “But we were confident this was the best route and thankfully we got the end result we wanted.”
She said that because of the resolution of both James’ and Potts’ cases, the city now knows what it’s up against and there is “no more arguing and no more what-ifs,” Miliman said.
City Council President Brandon Scott said Wednesday at the Board of Estimates meeting that the settlements are a reminder that the city still faces repercussions from the “embarrassment” of the Gun Trace Task Force.
The city, he said, has an obligation to restore trust with the police department and “own mistakes that were made.”
The city’s spending board also approved a settlement stemming from a 2018 assault in which then-Officer Arthur Williams was captured on video repeatedly punching Dashawn McGrier.
McGrier sued March 24, alleging his civil rights were violated by Williams and Officer Brandon Smith-Saxon. According to the board agenda, however, the case was removed from federal court shortly after being filed.
The city opted to pay McGrier $500,000 to dismiss claims against both officers, along with the police department, mayor and City Council. The agenda said the settlement will help avoid “the expense, time, and uncertainties of further protracted litigation.”
McGrier suffered a broken jaw, ribs and other ailments that kept him in the hospital for three days. Body camera footage showed Williams beating him on an East Baltimore sidewalk.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Yolanda Tanner found Williams guilty of assault and misconduct in office in June 2019. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, according to online court records. Smith-Saxon was not criminally charged.
Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Talia Richman contributed to this article.