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Broken wrist during traffic stop to cost city $30k

The city of Baltimore is poised to pay $30,000 to a furnace repairman named Michael Wright, who claims a police officer dragged him out of a vehicle and broke his wrist during a traffic stop in 2009.

In February, the city settled for $90,000 with Severna Park resident Ira Todd, who claimed a police officer broke his arm during an arrest in 2009.

A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer who was not involved in either case but has represented other clients in high-profile police misconduct suits, says the difference in the dollars is part of a recent trend: the city taking a harder line in settlement negotiations in response to media accounts about the amount being paid out for police misconduct.

“With all the publicity that certain political people, especially the president of the City Council have received, it’s made the city solicitor recently become much more conservative in their settlement offers,” Pettit said.

With the mayoral primary going on Tuesday, Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and his two spokesmen were out of the office and could not be reached for comment.

“I’m glad he thinks we are [taking a harder line],” Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson said. “That’s a good sign. But I don’t have any empirical data to prove it.

The Board of Estimates is scheduled to vote on Wright’s $30,000 settlement Wednesday morning. The complaint, filed by attorney William R. Teets Jr., had included six counts and requested $21 million on each count.

Nilson said a pretrial judge recommended a $50,000 settlement the city rejected — a measure that was not necessarily unusual.

When the Todd case settled in February, Nilson told The Daily Record $90,000 was agreed upon in part because the plaintiff suffered a “real physical injury” and was not charged with a crime. Those circumstances were the same for Wright and there was one more similarity: both he and Todd were “eggshell plaintiffs” who had fractured the same limbs in the past.

“There’s medical expenses [in both cases]; you’ve got to look at that, and the re-injury situation is startling similar,” Nilson said. “But certainly the incident that precipitated this one was different.”

Wright alleged he was riding in a service truck driven by a co-worker when they came up behind Officer Matthew Daugherty’s police cruiser. After Daugherty did not move for “three minutes,” Wright’s partner honked the horn. Daugherty pulled over to let them pass, then followed them and pulled them over.

Arm out the window

According to Wright’s pretrial statement, Daugherty asked for his driver’s license, Wright said all he had was a Maryland ID card and Daugherty grabbed his arm — which was hanging out of the open window — twisted it backward, pulled him out of the vehicle and slammed him against the car.

Daugherty’s pretrial statement indicates Wright was belligerent from the moment Daugherty approached the vehicle and that he cursed Daugherty out. When a crowd began to gather, Daugherty said, he arrested Wright for disorderly conduct.

Wright was taken to the Central Booking and Intake Facility and held for 6 to 8 hours before being released without charges. Meanwhile, he alleged, his wrist swelled painfully against his handcuffs. He sought medical treatment after he was released.

Anton Louis Iamele, of Iamele & Iamele LLP, represented Todd. He said the case was similar in that Todd also was held in Central Booking with an injury rather than triaged out to receive care. But he cautioned against comparing the two cases. He said his client suffered a “massive radial fracture” when the arresting officer stepped on his arm, while police might have argued that Wright’s wrist was fractured by a justified use of handcuffs.

The court file shows that Daugherty’s attorney, Michael Marshall of Schlachman, Belsky & Weiner PA, was prepared to call three orthopedic surgeons as expert witnesses. Marshall said he could not comment on the settlement.

Teets, Wright’s attorney, said whether Daugherty had used excessive force would have been an issue if the case had gone to trial.

“That was an allegation that was made at the inception of the case that I’m sure the defendant would deny,” said Teets.

Police settlements totaled $7.25 million between mid-2007 and mid-2010, according to the city Law Department.

Iamele said the city was likely taking a tougher stance on settling police misconduct cases, but it was hard to tell without more evidence.

“I think generally what Dwight [Pettit] said is correct, because I think the city has come under a lot more scrutiny recently for settling these,” Iamele said. “But it has been my experience that there are always well-defended cases; very vigorously defended cases.”