The parents of Freddie Gray reached a tentative $6.4 million settlement with the city of Baltimore, nearly five months after their 25-year-old son was critically injured in police custody, sparking days of protests and rioting.
The deal announced Tuesday appeared to be among the largest settlements in police death cases in recent years and happened just two days before a judge is set to hear arguments on whether to move the trials for six officers charged in Gray’s death from Baltimore.
Gray’s spine was injured April 12 in the back of a transport van after he was arrested. Gray, who was black, died at the hospital a week later. In the aftermath, Gray became a symbol of the contentious relationship between the police and the public in Baltimore, as well as the treatment of black men by police in America.
The city’s Board of Estimates is expected to approve the settlement Wednesday.
“The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a news release. “This settlement is being proposed solely because it is in the best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation that would only make it more difficult for our city to heal and potentially cost taxpayers many millions more in damages.”
The settlement does not resolve any factual disputes, and expressly does not constitute an admission of liability on the part of the city, its police department or any of the officers. The settlement has nothing whatsoever to do with the criminal proceedings, the news release said.
An attorney for Gray’s family declined to comment.
The proposed payment in the Gray case is more than the $5.7 million the city of Baltimore paid in total for 102 court judgments and settlements for alleged police misconduct between 2011 and last fall, according to an investigation by The Baltimore Sun. The city paid another $5.8 million for legal fees to outside lawyers who represented officers, the newspaper reported.
The amount of the settlement exceeds what the family could have won in state court; Maryland has a $400,000 cap on damages for those who win judgments over police misconduct. However, cases that involve grave injury or death — and the possibility of civil rights violations — frequently wind up in federal court, where the cap does not apply.
Even more unusual than the monetary amount, experts say, is the timeline: the city agreed to a settlement before the family filed a lawsuit.