In a progressive move, Baltimore officials have announced the city will make the outcome of all civil lawsuits alleging police brutality available to the public.
A six-month investigation by the Baltimore Sunrevealed that the city has paid $5.7 million since 2011 on lawsuits and settlements in 102 civil suits alleging police brutality and misconduct.
The Sun‘s report included accounts of broken bones and beaten faces of suspects during arrests. Victims of brutality and civil rights violations in Baltimore include a 15-year old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year old pregnant accountant who witnessed a beating, a 50-year old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 67-year old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson, the report said.
The newspaper found that sometimes officers did not complete their use-of-force reports, which are required after a violent arrest.
Nearly all of the people in the incidents were cleared of criminal charges, according to The Sun.
City solicitor George Nilson enacted a new policy for police settlements and court judgements that will provide increased training for officers who are often cited in these kinds of lawsuits. He toldThe Sun that the new policies will give the public more information.
“I want to end the thinking that we’re hiding the ball, because we’re not,” he told The Sun.
The new database will have summarizations of excessive force lawsuits. It will have a record of the outcomes of lawsuits and settlements reached. Cases that have already been settled won’t be posted, but are available upon request, according to Nilson. City lawyers will conduct research to examine if Baltimore’s non-disclosure clauses are “fair and consistent with best practices.”
The report also revealed that city policies shielded the impact of alleged police brutality by including non-disclosure clauses as a part of settlements. Last month, the city withheld $31,500 from a woman who posted about an incident online.
Some prominent Baltimore-area defense attorneys say the clause should be eliminated because it hides information and violates the right to free speech. A. Dwight Pettit, who has represented several plaintiffs in suits against police officers, says that the non-disclosure clauses need to be eliminated.
“That’s a suppression of First Amendment rights,” he told the Sun.
Bryan A. Levitt, who represents people in similar cases, told the Sun that a non-disclosure clause “establishes a wall between the public and public services.”
The U.S. Justice Department is in the early stages of its review of the Baltimore Police Department per the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore City Police Commissioner Anthony Batts.
Last month, Rawlings-Blake and Batts created a plan to reduce police brutality by increasing the staff in Internal Affairs and awarding Batts more authority in handling the punishment of officers who cross the line. The plan also included a task force set to research the use of body cameras on police officers.
A bill that would require Baltimore’s police officers to wear body cameras was given preliminary approval by the City Council on Monday. Debate has stirred on the legality of the bill.