Baltimore Penalizes Litigants For Talking About Police Misconduct Deals


When Baltimore officials settle police-misconduct claims, they usually bar the person who alleged mistreatment from speaking publicly about the case. Violating that restriction can result in a settlement being cut in half, reports the Wall Street Journal. The city last year withheld $31,500 of a woman's $63,000 payment after she posted messages about her case on a newspaper website. Baltimore is rare among large U.S. cities in its use of such constraints. Its silencing tactic appears to be more aggressive than the approaches of other big cities, including Philadelphia, Boston, Fort Worth, Memphis and Minneapolis. Baltimore paid out $12 million in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases from 2010 through 2014.

Critics are pressing Baltimore officials to end the practice. “No one at City Hall should be afraid of the truth, nor afraid of the people knowing the truth,” said Ben Jealous, who led the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 2008 to 2012. He is calling on Baltimore to stop mandating the post-settlement restrictions, which he calls gag orders. “It kind of defeats the purpose of these types of lawsuits, which is to shine a light on police misconduct,” said Jeffrey Neslund, a Chicago plaintiffs’ attorney. In 95% of police-misconduct cases, as well as in some other types of disputes, Baltimore requires the plaintiff's public silence, beyond saying that a satisfactory settlement was reached, says Baltimore Solicitor George Nilson. The approach protects the city by helping to ensure a final resolution of disputes, Nilson said. “You can't do that if plaintiffs are entirely free to continue the dispute we just paid them a bunch of money to settle,” he said.

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