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Politics

Baltimore officials unanimously finalize $3.5M settlement with business owners related to Freddie Gray unrest, despite concerns

The Baltimore Board of Estimates unanimously approved a $3.5 million settlement Wednesday with 68 current and former business owners whose properties were damaged during the 2015 unrest following Freddie Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody.

Approving the settlement was largely a formality after the plaintiffs’ attorney, Peter Hwang, and a city spokesperson said in March the two sides had reached an agreement. The Board of Estimates has to approve every settlement the city agrees to.

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The vote to approve the settlement comes a day after the seven-year anniversary of Gray’s death and five days before the anniversary of his funeral and the subsequent unrest. Gray’s death was ruled a homicide, and six police officers were charged in the killing. All of them were either acquitted or had their charges dropped.

Despite the unanimous vote, City Council President Nick Mosby expressed concerns about the agreement, saying many of the businesses weren’t aesthetically pleasing before the unrest and are still in disrepair. Mosby wanted a requirement in the settlement that the money go toward fixing up the properties and beautifying them, saying most of them are an “eyesore.”

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“Many of the establishments had major issues, structural issues, not having windows, things being boarded up, just being not being quality assets in the community,” Mosby said.

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The settlement does not dictate how the money must be spent.

More than 380 businesses, mostly in West Baltimore but reaching into Mount Vernon, were damaged or destroyed, and property losses were estimated at nearly $13 million. The $3.5 million is half of the documented damages the plaintiffs originally sought.

City Comptroller Bill Henry also expressed concerns about the settlement, saying some business owners might be collecting this cash in addition to insurance payments for the destroyed buildings.

“Hopefully most of the claimants are good actors in this,” Henry said.

The plaintiffs, through their attorney, said the lawsuit against the city gave them a chance to have their voices heard. They originally sued the city in 2017, claiming officials failed to prevent the unrest that erupted after Gray’s death in April 2015, despite warnings the city would experience violence.

Korean Grocers Association President Mario Chang was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit but knows many of them, he said. He said a lot of people whose businesses were damaged opted to leave town altogether, having lost too much. The settlement does some good at repairing that damage, he said.

“I guess it was good overall that something came out of it, but it always could have been better,” Chang said. “A lot of bad happened during that time.”


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