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Hogan promises to sign bill doubling max payouts in brutality cases

Gov. Larry Hogan plans to sign legislation that would double how much people injured by police can collect in civil lawsuits.

The announcement Friday afternoon follows the governor's promise Thursday to sign three other bills to encourage police departments to begin body camera programs and require them to report all police-related deaths to the Maryland State Police.

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As demonstrations continue in Baltimore over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray from injuries sustained in police custody, Hogan has said he is willing to help the city whenever asked.

The governor has put Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford and former delegate Keiffer Mitchell in charge of coordinating the state's response with city leaders.  So far, Hogan has sent a team of nearly three dozen troopers to help with crowd control.

Maryland's legislature passed six laws this spring to address police brutality in the wake of a Baltimore Sun investigation that revealed officers had battered dozens of residents during questionable arrests.

The investigation found that city taxpayers paid out nearly $6 million since 2011 in lawsuits settled against the police department.

A state law, however, capped how much a plaintiff could receive in a lawsuit against a local government at $200,000 in most cases.  The legislature passed a bill 122-59 doubled the cap to $400,000, the first time it had been increased since 1987.  Another bill doubled the limits on damages for cases against the state government to $800,000.  Both also extended the amount of time people can file a lawsuit against the government from six months to a year.

Before Friday, the governor had not made a public statement on whether he would sign the legislation.  He will sign the bills along with more than 150 others at a previously scheduled bill signing Tuesday.

Del. Curt Anderson, a Democrat and chair of the city's delegation, applauded Del. Frank Conaway, Jr. for introducing the legislation.  Anderson said hopefully the higher limits will help eliminate some police misconduct in the city. He predicted officials across the state will suddenly scrutinize their budgets to make sure money is included for additional liabilities.

"You want to make sure you're employees are trained right," Anderson said. "Money talks."

Timothy F. Maloney, a Greenbelt attorney, represented a Prince George's County family in its attempt to collect $11.5 million jury award after county officer fatally shot a relative. Maryland's Court of Appeals last month upheld the state cap on monetary awards in lawsuits against local governments. The family will only collect $400,000.

"I'm sure the governor saw this as the least the state can do," Maloney said Friday about Hogan. "Is $400,000 really what Freddie Gray's life was worth?"

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