The city of Baltimore has arrived at a tentative $6.4 million settlement with the family Freddie Gray, a black man who died in April after sustaining spinal cord injuries while in police custody. The settlement still needs the approval of the city’s board of estimates, but marks the potential for closure in a case which has faced ongoing internal and external pressures. The board will meet Wednesday to make a final decision.
The settlement comes as six Baltimore police officers await trials relating to Mr. Gray's death. The charges against them range from second-degree murder to assault and misconduct. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was quick to clarify that the settlement does not constitute admission of any guilt on the part of those officers or the police department.
“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 proposed settlement includes a $2.8 million initial payment to be made in the current fiscal year and a $3.6 million during the following fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2016. All city finances are controlled by the board of estimates and its five members include the mayor.
The city of Baltimore has made a series of similar settlements over allegations of police brutality, but this single settlement is roughly equivalent to all payouts made since 2011, which totaled $6.3 million, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Relations between the community and the embattled Baltimore Police Department have long been strained, but protests and civil unrest that followed Gray's death heightened tensions to a new level – a point that attorneys for the accused police officers suggest that their clients' trials should be moved out of the city. On Thursday, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams will hold a hearing to determine whether the trial should be moved from Baltimore because of the uproar over Gray's death.
While the defense motion is wary about whether or not it will be possible to find a “fair or impartial jury” in Baltimore, Dwight Pettit, a veteran Baltimore defense attorney, is optimistic that enough impartial jurors can be found that the case will not have to be moved to another county.
“I think we will find many people who can say, ‘Judge, I’m going to be fair,’ ” he told the Monitor.
This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.