The City of Baltimore and police are facing a fresh set of lawsuits filed by locals who claim they were beaten, sexually assaulted, threatened or wrongfully arrested between 2013 and 2016.
Attorneys for all 15 plaintiffs allege in each filing that the department “had an obligation to train their police officers regarding proper dealing with individuals,” and “failed to comply with those obligations and had a custom or policy of acting with deliberate indifference to violations of the constitutional rights of the City’s citizens.” They also say the department failed to train and supervise its officers.
The allegations are ugly. In one case, attorneys say a boy, 13, was assaulted by officers at a BP gas station in Midtown-Edmondson in May 2016. When his grandmother stepped in to intervene, she was then allegedly beaten and handcuffed as well.
Another woman has said she was in her home with several adults and children in October 2015 when around 20 officers conducted a SWAT raid of her house, allegedly serving her with an unsigned warrant as cause. They didn’t find anything, even after patting down her kids, the filing says.
Other suits from the group accuse officers of arresting a woman who was visibly having a miscarriage — i.e., bleeding — while on her way to the hospital, and of sexually assaulting another woman, then ignoring her complaints about her alleged attacker and retaliating against her months later by beating her in an interrogation room.
Each of the lawsuits seeks damages “in excess of $75,000.” All cases were filed in federal district court yesterday.
Reached for comment by email, police spokesman T.J. recommended contacting the Baltimore City Solicitor’s Office, citing the fact that the cases are “active litigation.”
City Solicitor Andre Davis said in a follow-up email that lawyers for the city “have only just begun to examine the allegations and to research the events they mention.”
“We will pursue our ordinary course of investigation and expect to put on a vigorous defense to defend the City taxpayers from unjustified claims,” he added.
Conrad Benedetto, a Philadelphia-based attorney on the team representing the plaintiffs, said on a phone call Wednesday morning that most of his clients are younger minorities, both men and women, though the range spans all ages and races.
“One of the central themes I see is that there appears to be a significant and serious lack of training of young officers,” he said. “None of the officers seem to want to take the time or attempt to calm the situation down to make it an orderly engagement.”
The U.S. Department of Justice’s sweeping and damning 2016 investigative report concluded the Baltimore Police Department suffers from entrenched problems with unconstitutional stops and searches, excessive use of force, discriminatory policing patterns and retaliating against citizens practicing constitutionally protected free speech.
The investigation spurred a police reform effort in the form of a judge-signed consent decree requiring the department to overhaul its practices and training process. That work is ongoing.
Benedetto said he and other attorneys representing the 15 clients are looking into last summer’s investigation and its recommendations. He argued, as the DOJ concluded, that city police have a habit of putting use-of-force first, and have struggled to commit to community policing.
“Not only is it eroding the confidence and the trust that people have in law enforcement, but it’s hurting the good men and women in law enforcement as well,” he said.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis has touted the department’s deployment of more patrol officers to step up the community-policing effort, and has argued throughout 2017 that BPD had already begun to reform its practices even before the consent decree took effect.
“Our responsibility to our community begins and ends with our patrol officers,” he said in January, announcing the deployment of 100 additional neighborhood patrol units.
The announcement of the civil rights lawsuits comes a day after a federal jury awarded $15 million to a man who was wrongly convicted of murder in 1995, and who had accused homicide detectives of pinning the crime on him without having any other leads.
The city has already signed off on well over $1.2 million in payouts this year to civil case plaintiffs who said they, or their family members, were wrongfully injured, arrested or killed by Baltimore police officers.
This story has been updated with comment from City Solicitor Andre Davis.
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