Baltimore’s spending board approved a $100,000 settlement Wednesday to a man who served time in jail as a result of false testimony from a city police officer, who was convicted of perjury for lying in the case.
The Board of Estimates voted unanimously in favor of the settlement to Yusef Smith as members of the board bemoaned the fact that they have no power to revoke former Officer Michael O’Sullivan’s pension nor recoup any of the settlement costs from him.
The settlement stems from Smith’s 2018 arrest by O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan took Smith into custody due to his proximity to a gun on the ground, and Smith was charged with illegal possession of a handgun and other firearm offenses.
According to the board’s agenda, O’Sullivan wrote a false statement saying he saw Smith throw the gun before fleeing. O’Sullivan repeated that testimony at Smith’s trial, and Smith was convicted.
Smith appealed and a circuit court judge dismissed his conviction after prosecutors reviewed body camera footage and found “O’Sullivan could not have seen what he testified to under oath,” according to the board’s agenda.
Smith sued the city and O’Sullivan, claiming malicious prosecution and abuse of process.
Lisa Walden, a city attorney who represents the Baltimore Police Department, said it would be difficult for the city to win the civil case given that O’Sullivan was convicted of perjury.
O’Sullivan was charged in May 2019 with perjury and misconduct in office in Smith’s case. He was convicted in October of that year and sentenced in December 2019 to 15 months in jail.
O’Sullivan did not resign from the police department until Dec. 1, 2020, according to the board’s agenda. He had been an officer since 2000.
Democratic Comptroller Bill Henry, one of five members of the board, asked at Wednesday’s meeting what it would take to recoup the cost of the settlement from O’Sullivan. Walden said state law provides indemnification for local government employees who commit illegal acts in the course of their employment. A separate memorandum of understanding with the police department also provides protection, she said.
Henry urged his colleagues to lobby for a change to that law on the state level. Democratic City Council President Nick Mosby, also a member of the board, said he would join Henry in that fight, calling the situation a “gross imbalance of what government is there for.”
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Mosby also questioned whether O’Sullivan was eligible for a pension still in light of the fact that he committed a crime in the course of duty. Walden said a pension could not be revoked due to bad conduct.
“Right now, an officer could hurt, maim, steal, kill, as we saw in (the Gun Trace Task Force case) and still keep their pension?” Mosby asked.
“Yes, Mr. President,” Walden responded.
Smith did not appear at Wednesday’s meeting. His attorney, Steve Silverman, praised the city Tuesday in advance of the board’s vote.
“This is another example of a fairly recent trend where Baltimore City is doing the right thing in making amends to citizens harmed by the police,” Silverman said. “We applaud the mayor and city solicitor’s office for fairly resolving this case expeditiously.”