Five city police officers won’t have to personally cover $40,000 in damages awarded to two men who accused them of battery and other charges in a 2013 case that in part sparked a public spat between the city’s Law Department and the Baltimore police union.
City Solicitor Andre Davis said in a statement Friday morning that the city will cover $32,500 of that sum for the five officers implicated in the case, at the request of their attorneys. Leo Joseph Green and James Green, the two plaintiffs who were awarded the money, will agree not to seek the rest.
“None of the officers will be required to pay any of the costs or damages arising in connection with these proceedings, and none of them shall be required to pay any amount to bring the case to a full conclusion,” Davis said in a statement.
The case, first identified by The Sun’s Ian Duncan and Luke Broadwater, initiated a feud between FOP Lodge 3 and Davis that began Tuesday with a memo from police union president Gene Ryan.
Ryan’s letter warned officers that while the city has “generally supported” them by paying jury-awarded punitive damages in the past, Davis had allegedly changed that longstanding policy when he stepped in to lead the Law Department in September 2017.
“Police officers are now required to pay these punitive damage awards, which can amount to thousands of dollars, out of their own pockets,” he wrote.
Davis, however, said on Wednesday that wasn’t at all true. Rather, the city would continue to consider case-by-case whether to shell out for officers’ punitive damages, he said. He even pointed to a Maryland law that shields local governments from having to commit to covering all of their employees’ payouts in such cases.
Per WBAL-TV, the police union elaborated at a press conference on Wednesday that nine officers were awaiting decisions from the Law Department about whether the city government would cover them; one of the officers is reportedly facing an $800,000 judgment.
Davis said Friday morning that he determined most of the punitive damages awarded in the 2013 case against the five officers—Nicholas Chapman, Daraine Harris, Brian Loiero, Marcus Smothers and Nathan Ulmer—are worth covering. He said he reached that decision after hearing from both the officers’ and the plaintiffs’ attorneys, consulting with Law Department colleagues and reviewing a partial transcript from the trial, as well as “written personal statements” from the officers.
Davis said his decision is “entirely unrelated to the spurious assertions by the Fraternal Order of Police” that he had changed city policy.
“The members of our community, like police officers themselves, need to know that the City will not write blank checks to cover police damages, regardless of what a jury finds an officer has done,” he added.
Court records show the Greens were awarded $187,100 in combined punitive and compensatory damages in the case. According to The Sun, the men had accused the officers of battery, false arrest and violations of constitutional rights after a June 2013 incident in the 6000 block of Moravia Road in Northeast Baltimore.
Nikoletta Mendrinos, an attorney who represented both men in the case, told Baltimore Fishbowl the city already paid them the remaining $147,100 in compensatory damages in 2017. The officers did not pay for any of that portion either, she said.
This story has been updated.
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