West News Wire: Baltimore officials decided on Wednesday to pay a $6 million payment to the family of a driver who died in a police chase by Gun Trace Task Force agents in 2010. This is the latest settlement the city has received as a result of the rogue law enforcement unit’s gross wrongdoing.
Baltimore has now spent $22.2 million to resolve over 40 cases involving the Gun Trace Task Force, according to officials at a spending board meeting that was open to the public on Wednesday. There are currently at least five other cases in various states of litigation.
The task force was established to remove illegal firearms from the streets, but instead of doing so, its members robbed drug dealers, drugged innocent people, assaulted unidentified bystanders, and put weapons and drugs on them. Almost a dozen police officers have been found guilty in the scandal since 2017. Hundreds of cases that hinged on their testimony were later dropped.
City leaders have since undertaken significant efforts to reform the Baltimore Police Department, which remains under a federal consent decree because Justice Department investigators found a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing practices, especially against Black residents.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, who took office in 2020, said the rising cost of settlements demonstrates the importance of continuing to pursue robust reforms aimed at preventing future misconduct. He said anyone skeptical about police reform should be reminded of the alternative.
“This is what happened when we didn’t have the oversight, when we didn’t have the training, when we didn’t go above and beyond to make sure those people that were sworn to protect and serve hadn’t turned themselves into the biggest gang in Baltimore,” he said during the Wednesday meeting.
Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby said the money spent on settlements could have instead supported programs to benefit the city’s youth, homeless residents and other vulnerable groups.
An attorney for the Baltimore Police Department recommended approval of the $6 million settlement, one of the largest Gun Trace Task Force awards to date. It resolves a 2018 federal lawsuit filed by Shirley Johnson after her father, Elbert Davis Sr., was killed and her mother was seriously injured during the 2010 police chase.
Johnson said her family feels relieved about the settlement after their years long battle for justice. She said the entire process was surreal starting with initial accounts of the crash, which covered up the egregious details of police misconduct that trickled out later. With each new detail, she said, the family was forced to relive painful memories in their search for the truth.
“They were feeding us this lie for over seven years. That’s how long it took before we found out what really happened to our parents,” Johnson told news reporters. “It’s crazy to think that Baltimore City police officers, who are supposed to protect and serve, were out there committing all kinds of crimes and they covered it up for so long.”
Last year, when the city of Minneapolis awarded $27 million to the family of George Floyd, their attorney called it the largest pretrial civil rights settlement ever. In 2020, amid months long nationwide racial justice protests, Louisville leaders agreed to pay Breonna Taylor ’s family $12 million after police killed her while executing a no-knock warrant.
Several years earlier, Freddie Gray ’s family received $5.9 million from the city of Baltimore after he died from spinal injuries sustained in police custody, sparking widespread protests.
Johnson’s attorneys said the Davis family case stands out because the victims were “innocent bystanders” who weren’t even interacting with police when the crash occurred.