For victims of police brutality and corruption, consequences are few and far between. Far too often, the police are unpunished. A new policy in Baltimore, Maryland, however, may be a step forward toward changing this.
In particular, the new policy means that when police officers are found legally liable for damages against a citizen, they’ll be personally responsible for paying restitution. This in direct contrast with policies across the country, where in almost every case the city’s taxpayers usually foot the bill in the rare case when the victim of a police assault wins a lawsuit.
As police union president Gene Ryan noted in an email memo to Baltimore city police,
Many of our officers are sued for monetary damages by individuals they have arrested or have come in contact with. These lawsuits allege wrongdoing on the part of the officer and oftentimes allege that the officer acted with malice. Malice means that the officer’s alleged actions were motivated by a personal hatred towards the individual suing him or her. If the person suing the officer wins on the question of whether the officer committed a wrong, the Plaintiff can recover monetary damages to compensate him or her for any injury and/or expenses incurred resulting from the officer’s actions. If a jury finds that the officer acted with malice, the jury has the option to award punitive damages which are designed to punish the officer and to serve as a deterrent to the officer not to repeat the alleged wrongful conduct found to have occurred by the jury.
Most times, the officer who is being sued will dispute the allegations made by a Plaintiff and successfully defend a claim for punitive damages. However, many juries award punitive damages despite the lack of evidence of malice even in cases where the police officer has not been charged criminally and been found to have acted within the scope of his/her duties consistent with the rules and regulations of the Baltimore Police Department. In the past, the City of Baltimore has generally supported the officers by paying punitive damages as well as the compensatory damages awarded for the actual injury. Since Andre Davis has been named as our new City Solicitor, he has adopted a policy of not paying any punitive damages despite the fact that the Police Officer has been found to have acted appropriately by the office of the State’s Attorney as well as the Baltimore Police Department.
What this means is that police officers are now required to pay these punitive damage awards, which can amount to thousands of dollars, out of their own pockets. Since punitive damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, the successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25% of your net bi-weekly paycheck until the amount of the punitive judgment is satisfied.
Please keep this in mind as you go about performing your duties.
While it’s likely that Baltimore city police—long considered one of the most corrupt and brutal police forces in the country—might have preferred the public not know about the change, someone in the police department leaked the email to the Baltimore Sun‘s crime journalist Justin Fenton.
As Fenton tweeted,
Earthquake going through the Baltimore police force after this message blasted out by union about city no longer covering punitive damages in lawsuits: “The successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25% of your pay … Please keep this in mind”
Baltimore administration is already in damage control mode after the leak, as City Solicitor Andre Davis’ comments made clear. According to Davis, the policy had been in place for decades previously and wasn’t a new change.
According to former City Solicitor George Nilson,
“In the past, the city law department has appropriately refused to pay malice judgments.”
As Davis noted, however, the policy—Local Government Tort Claims Act—doesn’t require local governments to pay for officers’ poor decisions, though many bureaucrats chose to do so.
As Davis went on, according to WABL,
“The statement was flatly wrong in several respects and deeply misleading in other respects. The statute reflects the ordinary common sense notion that if government employees are told that no matter how badly they misbehave, no matter how maliciously they inflict harm or injuries on their fellow citizens, their employer will pay for that harm, then we can expect an increase in such harm. Employees, including police officers who, no doubt have the most difficult job in government, are not privileged to inflict gratuitous injury on others without also incurring personal consequences.”
Davis also pointed out something most of us have known for a long time: Officers aren’t charged without evidence, as the memo claims, but instead usually require a much, much higher burden of evidence before facing any sort of charges.
Consider for instance, how many unarmed Americans are shot and killed each year by police officers without any of those officers being brought to justice? Clearly, cops are hardly in danger of being jailed for crimes they didn’t commit.
And while The Baltimore Sun notes as many as nine Baltimore cops could be forced to pay for damages, the likelihood of them being found responsible is incredibly low.