Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Tuesday that he would invite plaintiffs who have filed police misconduct lawsuits against the city to speak before Baltimore’s spending panel when their cases are settled.
Young and City Solicitor Andre Davis said the move is an attempt to make sure victims of police misconduct don’t feel silenced by nondisparagement clauses that remain a part of city settlements, which are approved by the Board of Estimates.
At a contentious City Council hearing Monday, advocates voiced opposition to the use of such clauses and wore tape over their mouths to condemn the so-called “gag orders.”
“Under the new procedure, any claimants who settle their claims would be invited to address the board and speak publicly,” Young’s office said in a statement.
It was the latest development in what could be a dicey political issue for Young as he decides whether to run for mayor in the 2020 Democratic primary.
Young announced an executive order Monday that he said freed individuals who received settlements to talk about their cases. But the executive order only states that the city may not put “unreasonable constraints on free speech rights."
The ACLU of Maryland argued that language leaves city officials with too much discretion in determining what is and isn’t “reasonable" and called Young’s executive order a “meaningless sham.”
Meanwhile, Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott, who is running for mayor, is pushing legislation to ban nondisparagement clauses.
Stefanie Mavronis, a spokeswoman for Scott, said the council president had already pulled a settlement involving police from the “routine” agenda for Wednesday’s Board of Estimates meeting because he had questions the city’s standard nondisparagement clause. Items on the routine agenda are typically approved without comment. Items slated for discussion before they’re voted on are placed on the board’s “nonroutine” agenda.
“We have some real concerns about the clauses that are still contained in new settlements,” Mavronis said.
The city’s finance department says Baltimore has spent $24.5 million in the past five years on judgments, suits and legal fees pertaining to police misconduct.
On Wednesday, the Board of Estimates, on which Young, Scott and Davis all sit, is expected to approve a $75,000 settlement with Brenda McDowell, who sued Officer Charles Grimes for alleged excessive force stemming from her arrest in August 2014.
Organizations pushing for passage of the City Council’s ban on nondisparagement clauses include the ACLU, Not Without Black Women, Runners for Justice and the West Family Coalition.
Brittany T. Oliver, founder of Not Without Black Women, said anything short of removing nondisparagement clauses from settlements is unacceptable.
“The bill we advocated for says the city won’t require nondisclosure agreements in police misconduct settlements and other settlements involving unlawful discrimination,” Oliver said. “The executive order needs to say that, too. Otherwise, it is flawed. Because it won’t hold this administration or the one that comes after it accountable."