Sun Investigates

Baltimore consent decree contains denial of police misconduct allegations

When the U.S. Department of Justice issued a scathing investigation into the Baltimore Police Department in August, city officials welcomed the findings.

Then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the investigation, which found that city police routinely violate residents' civil rights, was an "important step on our path to reform." City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he "wasn't surprised."


On Thursday, when Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a legally binding consent decree enforcing police reforms, she praised city officials for never balking at the investigation's findings.

"No one in this city ever flinched from those findings," Lynch said. "No one in this city ever walked away from those findings."


But language in the consent decree, itself, tells a slightly different story.

In it, city officials formally deny all allegations made against the Baltimore Police Department.

"The City and BPD deny the allegations in the Complaint and Report," the consent decree states. "Nothing in the report ... was intended to be used by third parties to create liability."

So which is it? Does the city agree that its police officers engaged in widespread abuse or not?

Baltimore attorney Andrew I. Alperstein said the legal language in the consent decree is simply smart lawyering. Baltimore wants to improve its police department but doesn't want to break the city's budget by opening itself up to a wave of police misconduct lawsuits, he said.

"That's standard legal language in civil settlements," he said. "The city doesn't want to set itself up for any other lawsuits based on the conduct described in the report."

Baltimore has reason to be concerned about the high cost of lawsuits filed against its officers. The city has paid out more than $12 million since 2010 to settle suits alleging wrongdoing by police.