Baltimore County officials will pay $6.5 million to the family of the late Eric Sopp to settle a federal lawsuit accusing police of killing the unarmed man and others in the midst of mental health crises without justification.
Attorneys for Sopp’s family announced the settlement Tuesday, calling the conduct of the officer who opened fire when the Parkton man refused commands and exited his car on the shoulder of Interstate 83 two years ago “indefensible.”
“Police everywhere, and especially in Baltimore County, need to learn to de-escalate encounters with people in distress,” the family attorney Andrew Freeman wrote in an email. “Meaningful change will only occur if the County strengthens its crisis intervention programs, provides mandatory training for all police officers, and hires additional crisis intervention personnel.”
A spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. confirmed the settlement amount.
“The County considers this matter resolved and has no further comment,” spokesman Sean Naron said.
In November 2019, Catherine Sopp called 911 for help, saying her 48-year-old son had been drinking and feeling suicidal before he drove off. He had threatened to stab himself with an ice pick before leaving, according to her lawsuit.
“I was seeking assistance to protect both Eric and other drivers. I never dreamed that a police officer would kill my unarmed son,” she said in an email from her attorneys. “Justice for Eric has always meant that the County must take whatever steps are necessary to prevent a tragedy like this in the future.”
She and Sopp’s two children accused Baltimore County Police Officer Gregory Page of escalating the encounter by drawing his gun and shouting multiple, conflicting commands. They also accused the officer of violating department policy by not waiting for a mental-health crises team to arrive.
The department released footage last year from the officer’s body camera. The video shows Page draw his gun and approach Sopp’s Toyota Camry as they’re pulled over on I-83. The officer orders Sopp to place his hands on the dashboard and turn off the car. Sopp twice tells the officer that he won’t turn off the car.
“I’m getting out,” he tells Page.
“Don’t get out of the car, sir!” the officer orders him. “Don’t get out!”
When Sopp steps out, Page fires at least eight times and kills him near the exit for Belfast Road. Three months later, the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office declined to bring criminal charges against the officer.
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Deputy State’s Attorney Robin Coffin wrote that she found the shooting justified because of Sopp’s erratic driving, suicidal behavior and disregard for the officer’s commands. Page remains on the force today, a police spokeswoman said.
The Sopp family settlement comes after Baltimore County officials agreed in August to pay $3 million to the estate of Korryn Gaines who was shot and killed by officers during a standoff at her Randallstown apartment in 2016. Legal claims brought by her young son Kodi still are pending against the county.
The boy was 5-years-old at the time and was shot by police in his elbow and face. He required multiple surgeries.
Meanwhile, court records show settlement talks have broken down between Baltimore County and attorneys representing the family of Jeffrey Gene Evans. The 52-year-old Bowleys Quarters man was shot six times and killed by officers at his home in December 2015.
Evans’ girlfriend had called police to report he’d taken a large number of pills. Officers tried to persuade him to go to the hospital, but he refused. They twice shot an unarmed Evans with a Taser.
Only afterward did Evans run to his kitchen and grab a knife, holding it in the air, according to court records.
A federal judge found it reasonable for jurors to conclude the officers too hastily resorted to violence and escalated the encounter. The judge has allowed the case to proceed.