The vast majority of the expensive litigation facing Baltimore stems from alleged misconduct in the police department, a new city report shows.
For the first time, the city Law Department was required to publish a report laying out the legal cases it’s involved with in which someone is demanding more than $100,000 in damages.
The 26-page document includes lawsuits filed by people who have had their houses flooded with sewage, who believe they were passed over for a promotion because of their race, and who say they were injured by faulty city property. But the overwhelming majority of the litigation — roughly 70% — involves allegations of wrongdoing by police.
Several city officials said that was not surprising.
“Besides the fact that the police are essentially the front line of city operations," said Democratic City Councilman Ryan Dorsey, "we also have a historically and monumentally corrupt and ill-behaved police department,.”
Some of the police cases in the report are tied to the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, in which several officers were convicted of federal racketeering charges for robbing citizens, falsifying probable cause and lying on official documents.
In one case, for example, a man alleges that former GTTF officers arrested him after planting a gun in his friend’s car and stealing $1,000 from him in 2015. He is seeking millions in damages.
City attorneys tried to argue that taxpayers should be let off the hook from paying for the GTTF officers’ misdeeds because they were acting far outside the scope of their employment. But Maryland’s highest court recently dealt a blow to that argument when it ruled on two test cases, and determined the city must cover the judgments.
City Solicitor Dana Moore said she expects more lawsuits tied to the GTTF scandal to be filed.
There are also several wrongful conviction lawsuits included in the report that stem from cases that are more than a decade old.
“The wrongful conviction cases are very, very expensive and the more that there are findings of innocence, the more litigation we get,” Moore said. When people see stories in the news about cases being thrown out, she added, “the public should look at it like a potential case against the city.”
The city recently agreed, for example, to pay $125,000 to man who spent more than 16 years in prison for a 1999 murder he says he didn’t commit.
Due to the workload, Moore she wants to hire at least two more attorneys for the law department’s police legal affairs group.
But she cautioned the report gives a somewhat skewed look at the law department’s caseload: The police cases are generally the most expensive, but there are hundreds of other cases dealing with other agencies that didn’t meet the threshold for disclosure in this report.
A new law that required the city to produce the report defined “significant cases” as those in which a person seeks more than $100,000 in damages or injunctive relief.
Democratic Councilwoman Shannon Sneed sponsored the bill, although at the time it was passed, it made more waves for explicitly banning the use of gag orders in city settlements for police brutality and discrimination cases.
“When we did this piece of legislation, I said time and time again it was about transparency across the board,” said Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott. “There was a focus on the police settlements, and rightfully so. But it’s just as important for us to be providing transparency about city litigation, period.”
Other cases in the report, dated Thursday, include:
» A woman is seeking more than $100,000 in damages after alleging a board from a city-owned vacant house blew off the property, hit her in the head and caused traumatic brain injuries.
» U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged in a lawsuit that the Enoch Pratt Free Library paid female librarian supervisors less than a male counterpart.
» The family of a 20-year-old construction worker killed on a Baltimore excavation site in 2018 filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and its subcontractor for alleged negligence.
» An appeal pending in a long-running, and expensive, contract dispute over city and fire pension benefits.
Similar reports are to be published quarterly.