Baltimore’s spending board is expected to approve nearly $1 million in workers’ compensation benefits to the family of the late police Detective Sean Suiter, as well as settlements to nine individuals from cases relating to the department’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force.
If approved by the Board of Estimates, which meets on Wednesday, the city will pay $900,000 to Suiter’s family and $253,000 combined to the nine claimants who alleged they were victims of police misconduct.
The misconduct payouts are part of continuing fallout from the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. In all, some 20 individuals have reached settlement agreements with the city, with the terms of the other agreements to be announced in the coming weeks.
Suiter’s family has sought compensation for years. The detective, found dead in 2017 while on assignment with a partner, was scheduled to testify before a grand jury the next day about an evidence-planting incident related to the Gun Trace Task Force. Though his death was initially ruled a homicide, an independent panel later determined he had likely taken his life using his gun.
Still, his death remains an open homicide investigation by both the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office. The spending board’s agenda notes that his death “is still the subject of much conjecture and speculation,” and the settlement value reflects the dependency benefits available to his widow and his daughter, who was a minor at the time.
Last week, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who was not involved in the process, said in a statement that the settlement “is the right thing to do,” and does not preclude an ongoing investigation into Suiter’s death.
Meanwhile, it is still unknown how much the city will ultimately pay out to the 20 individuals who have sued the police department and its former members, but the nine agreements slated to go through Wednesday range from $11,000 to $70,000.
More than a dozen of the corrupt officers have been arrested or convicted as part of a sweeping investigation dating to 2009 for incidents ranging from theft and robbery to evidence planting and drug dealing. The convicted officers are serving sentences of seven to 25 years in federal prison. Their misconduct has led to dozens of lawsuits and claims, and hundreds of criminal charges have been dropped or overturned as a result of the distrust of the officers.
“The Law Department believes these settlements to be in the best interest of both the City and the plaintiffs who may have been harmed by the misconduct of former GTTF members,” according to the spending board agenda.
Acting City Solicitor Dana Moore has moved to make the settlements public via the spending board agenda, regardless of the amount, to enhance transparency, according to the agenda. Transactions less than $25,000 do not have to be publicized by the Board of Estimates.
This week’s agenda also outlines a series of staff positions proposed for the Baltimore City Council president’s office: one operations officer, three operations specialists and five staff assistants, with salaries ranging from $47,439 to $102,202.
Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young levied a nonessential hiring freeze to stabilize the city’s loss of revenue during the coronavirus pandemic, and he recently announced plans to layoff more than 60 workers within the Baltimore Department of Public Works. But in a statement, Young said these new positions would help create a more competent, transparent and effective council.
Council President Brandon Scott, the Democratic nominee for mayor, tweeted Monday that “creating these positions is fiscally irresponsible." His spokeswoman said Scott was moving the item to the part of the board’s agenda that puts it up for discussion and plans to ask questions about the measure.
Young responded by noting that Scott has pushed for measures, including several currently on the Nov. 3 ballot, that would give the council more power over the city’s budget.
“These historic policy shifts require a corresponding investment in human capital infrastructure to meet the necessary challenge of administering more balanced governance between the mayor and City Council,” Young said. “For the council president to push for these legislative reforms on the one hand, while leaving the cupboard bare on the other hand is simply unconscionable.”
Baltimore Del. Nick Mosby won the Democratic primary in June for the council president position. He faces Republican nominee Jovani Patterson in the general election.