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Baltimore Board of Estimates approves 3 settlements

On the same day last week The Daily Record reported the details behind a previously confidential $200,000 mistaken arrest settlement, the Baltimore Board of Estimates approved another $195,000 in settlements related to police incidents.

Unlike the long-secret case of Yakov Shapiro, however, all three settlements were fully disclosed. And each, in its own way, will sound familiar to anyone who closely follows the Baltimore Police Department. In a span of three years, from mid-2007 to mid-2010, the city spent $7.25 million settling police misconduct claims.

Neither City Solicitor George Nilson, who recommended approval of the three settlements, nor Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who controls the Board of Estimates, could be reached on Monday, which was a city furlough day.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment on the cases and could not give any information about the officers involved because the personnel division was out on furlough. The outside attorney who defended all three of the cases, Troy Priest, did not return a call.

Special Enforcement Team

The most expensive of the three settlements — $110,000 — allegedly involved four members of the BPD’s controversial and since-disbanded Special Enforcement Team.

According to the Northwest Baltimore plaintiffs’ lawsuit, Latasha Calvert returned to her home just before midnight on July 19, 2006, to find members of the SET squad arresting her boyfriend.

“A verbal confrontation arose, following which time all four Defendants beat and kicked Plaintiff Calvert, causing injuries to her head, a fractured left elbow, and torn ligaments to her left knee,” the June 2009 suit stated.

The officers also allegedly laid hands on Calvert’s daughter and broke her finger. Calvert will receive $100,000 and her daughter, Brittney Jones, will receive $10,000 in the settlement. Their attorney, Domenic Iamele, did not return a call Monday.

According to the SET officers’ pretrial statement, they observed Calvert’s boyfriend, Abdoulaye Cisse, selling a bag of marijuana from an ice cream truck. As they were finalizing his arrest, Calvert showed up and tried to let Cisse out of the back door of the police car, which led to the violent confrontation with the officers.

Three of the four officers — Sendy Ferdinand, Kevin D. Watford and Tyrone S. Francis — have been defendants in other civil suits alleging police misconduct, and Francis is set to stand trial on criminal kidnapping charges in February.

Ferdinand was one of three officer defendants in a lawsuit brought by the family of Dondi Johnson, a 43-year-old man who died two weeks after he was arrested for public urination, placed in the back of a police van without being secured by a seatbelt and then was driven around town. Tests showed Johnson had a fractured and dislocated spine, resulting in quadriplegia, according to his family’s lawsuit. In April, a city jury returned a $7.4 million verdict in that case. Ferdinand was still on the force, Guglielmi said at the time.

Francis was indicted earlier this year on charges of kidnapping two West Baltimore teens and letting one of them out in Patapsco State Park in Howard County without shoes or his cell phone. A related civil suit is scheduled to go to trial in August.

Three other SET-related settlements cost taxpayers $225,000 in November 2009; $200,000 in December 2009; and $125,000 in July.

Strip club brawl

The next settlement on the Board of Estimates agenda Wednesday was a proposed $50,000 payout to Alberto Mojica, who was injured during the same April 24, 2008, brawl at an East Baltimore strip club that resulted in the police shooting death of Officer Norman Stamp. (Stamp’s widow sued over her husband’s death, but a jury found against her on Oct. 21 after two weeks of trial in the city circuit court.)

Mojica alleged Officer Jason Rivera threw him to the ground during that fight, causing injuries that required surgery. His attorney, Richard C.B. Woods, could not be reached Monday.

Disarmed officer

The final settlement was for only $35,000, but the underlying incident may be more well-known nationally thanks to David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun police reporter and creator of The Wire television series who wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post concerning what the incident and its aftermath said about the decline of daily newspaper journalism.

On Feb. 17, 2009, Officer Traci McKissick and another officer responded to a disturbance at a family gathering in East Baltimore, according to court papers. At some point, 61-year-old Joseph Forrest left the house, McKissick confronted him, and the two became involved in a physical altercation.

Forrest’s nephew — also named Joseph Forrest, the plaintiff in the recently settled case — and another man were standing nearby, and the elder Forrest called to them to help him disarm McKissick. Stories differ about whether one of the men entered the fray, but the elder Forrest was eventually shot and killed by McKissick and another officer who had responded to the scene.

McKissick fingered the younger Forrest, a barber and phlebotomist, as the bystander who stomped on her hand in an attempt to disarm her, and he spent six months in jail, facing assault charges. The case against him was only dismissed at trial when McKissick testified she couldn’t make a visual identification of the younger Forrest.

“It’s an awfully long time when you consider the low amount that the case settled for,” Forrest’s attorney James Rhodes said Monday, referring to the six months in jail. “But I just really had an anxious client who wanted to leave” and move to North Carolina.

Simon took interest in the case and wrote his widely circulated op-ed because Guglielmi, citing new BPD policy, would not disclose the name of the officers involved in the shooting.

“It turns out that McKissick — who is described as physically diminutive — had had her gun taken from her once before,” Simon wrote in his March 2009 analysis, before describing a 2005 incident.

“And so on Feb. 17, the same officer may have again drawn her weapon only to find herself again at risk of losing the gun,” Simon continued. “The shooting may be good and legally justified, and perhaps McKissick has sufficient training and is a capable street officer. But in the new world of Baltimore, where officers who take life are no longer named or subject to public scrutiny, who can know?”

Thanks to pressure from, among others, then-city council president and now-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the BPD backed off that policy earlier this year.