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Baltimore spending board to consider $525,000 payment to settle Gun Trace Task Force lawsuit

Baltimore’s spending board is poised to approve a $525,000 settlement for a man who sued the city over a traffic stop conducted by two members of the Gun Trace Task Force.

The settlement, which is listed on the Board of Estimates’ agenda for Wednesday, calls for the city to pay Robert Johnson to settle a claim over a traffic stop on August 27, 2014. According to the agenda, then-Detectives Momodu Gondo and Jemell Rayam pulled over a vehicle Johnson was riding in and found a gun inside.

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Johnson was on probation at the time and pleaded guilty to a firearms charge, according to his lawsuit. That plea was later withdrawn and his case closed after members of the Gun Trace Task Force were prosecuted. Johnson served four years in prison.

Johnson sued in 2019 arguing there was no probable cause for the traffic stop and alleging that Gondo planted the gun in his vehicle. The lawsuit named Gondo and Rayam as well as the Baltimore Police Department, former police Commissioners Anthony Batts and Frederick H. Bealefeld III.

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Latoya Francis-Williams, one of Johnson’s attorneys, said Monday it was “much appreciated that the city is finally recognizing that even constitutional deprivations are worth something more than an insulting settlement offer.”

“Mr. Johnson was wrongfully incarcerated and has maintained his innocence,” Francis-Williams said. “He lost in terms of his reputation, in terms of his liberty, in terms of his education, and in terms of his relationship with his family. He’s trying to pick up the pieces and move on.”

The settlement is the latest and one of the largest related to the Gun Trace Task Force, a rogue unit of the city police department that stole from citizens, lied on paperwork and bilked the city for unearned overtime pay. More than a dozen officers with connections to the unit have been charged and convicted, and are serving federal prison sentences that range from seven to 25 years.

Gondo is serving a 10-year sentence and Rayam was sentenced to 12 years.

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The fallout from the the unit has included hundreds of criminal cases brought by the officers that have been dropped or vacated.

Dozens of people have sued the city over the officers’ actions. City attorneys initially fought their liability in the cases, arguing the officers’ conduct was so far outside the “scope of employment” that an agreement with the police union to cover officers’ lawsuit damages shouldn’t apply.

But in late 2020, the Board of Estimates began settling numerous lawsuits related to the unit, the largest of which was a nearly $8 million payout to Umar Burley and Brent Matthews who served federal prison time after drugs were planted on them in 2010. That amount eclipses the settlement paid to the family of Freddie Gray in 2015.

In total the city has spent more than $13 million to settle lawsuits related to the Gun Trace Task Force.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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