In addition to signing off on a record-setting $9 million settlement this morning for a man wrongfully convicted of murdering a woman in Baltimore in 1987, city officials also approved a $50,000 payout for a man who who alleged an officer injured his knee with a “hip throw” takedown in 2016.
The settlement brings an end to a lawsuit filed in January 2017 by Matthew Fenderson against Officer Orlando Guerrero, according to court records.
One year earlier, in 2016, Fenderson was playing an electronic game called “Horses” inside a convenience store in Southwest Baltimore’s Allendale neighborhood. The store was “known to Officer Guerrero to have been used in the past for street level narcotics transactions,” and had banned some people from its premises, according to a Board of Estimates agenda.
Guerrero, out on patrol, stopped in and noticed Fenderson. The store clerk told the officer that Fenderson wasn’t banned and he “had no objection to his presence,” the agenda says. Guerrero left.
He then came back. He questioned Fenderson, who refused to identify himself and became “agitated” at Guerrero’s persistence. The officer took out his Taser but didn’t use it, the agenda says.
The confrontation escalated after Fenderson followed him out of the store, cursing and recording him on his phone, according to city lawyers’ account. Guerrero responded by also recording Fenderson. The pair then “exchanged words,” after which the officer “took Mr. Fenderson into custody by performing a hip throw to take him down.”
Police initially charged Fenderson with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. The charges were later dismissed.
Fenderson sued 12 months later, saying he “suffered serious, debilitating and permanent injury to his left knee” and had to have surgery to fix it. The agenda says a witness was willing to corroborate Fenderson’s account that he did not do anything to warrant arrest, and that footage exists to bolster his case.
A Law Department committee agreed that a $50,000 settlement was in the city’s best interest, “given the uncertainty of litigation, existence of video evidence potentially regarded as favorable to Mr. Fenderson, and conflicting versions of the events at issue,” the agenda says.
The payout was a fraction of the $9 million set to be awarded to James Owens, 57, who was freed from jail in 2008–after 20 years behind bars—when DNA evidence overturned his conviction for the 1987 murder of Colleen Williar in O’Donnell Heights.
Three city police officers—later portrayed in David Simon’s TV shows about Baltimore crime—arrested Owens, relying on the account of a key witness who later changed his story more than half a dozen times and whose DNA matched a pubic hair found on Williar’s body. Neither police nor the assistant state’s attorney who secured Owens’ conviction disclosed the DNA evidence to Owens’ defense team during the trial, and the officers never mentioned that their witness had repeatedly altered his story during interrogation.
With Owens’ settlement approved, he’ll receive $3 million in taxpayer funds by the end of June, $2 million more by mid-July and four additional payments of $1 million through July 15, 2020. According to The Sun, Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who sits on the Board of Estimates, suggested this morning that the city’s police union should foot some of the bill.
FOP Lodge 3 president Gene Ryan shot back, criticizing Young’s understanding of the police union’s role in Baltimore and what he called a “ridiculous” suggestion “that the FOP bears responsibility for any part of this settlement.”
— Baltimore City FOP (@FOP3) May 2, 2018
This story has been updated.