The Baltimore Board of Estimates last week approved a $375,000 settlement in a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Baltimore man who was shot twice in the back by a police officer in 2008.
The family of Edward L. Hunt initially sought $10 million in the 2009 lawsuit against Officer Thomas Sanders III. The case was settled in June on the third day of the jury trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The settlement needed the approval of the Board of Estimates, the city’s spending board, which approved it Wednesday.
The only dissenting vote on the Board of Estimates came from City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who did not say why he was voting against the settlements. Young has said in the past that he feels the city is spending too much on police misconduct claims.
Hunt’s mother, children and the personal representative of his estate sued Sanders for $5 million each in compensatory and punitive damages. The lawsuit included counts for wrongful death, battery, false imprisonment and violation of Hunt’s rights under the Maryland Constitution by Sanders while acting “under color and pretense of law.”
The shooting occurred around noon on Jan. 30, 2008. Hunt, 27, was at the Hamilton Shopping Center when he was stopped by Sanders. The officer searched him for three or four minutes, according to witness accounts, but did not find a weapon or contraband.
Sanders then went to his car, returned, and searched Hunt a second time. When Sanders pulled out handcuffs, Hunt reportedly ran and the officer followed with his weapon drawn.
Sanders, who was acquitted of manslaughter in a criminal prosecution over the shooting, testified at the civil trial that he used deadly force only when Hunt reached into his own coat pocket while running from the officer. Sanders fired three shots and hit Hunt twice in the back.
Attorney A. Dwight Pettit said the family agreed to the settlement mainly due to concerns that any award might be capped at $200,000 under the Maryland Local Tort Claims Act.
“I felt like we had a real winner with this case,” Pettit said. “I believed the verdict was going to be a lock, but the family didn’t want to take the chance with the cap, or have the damages tied up in appeals for years.”
Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson said the city’s decision to settle the case also was affected by concern about the cap on damages — notably, whether it would apply in this case. The other factor was that defense witnesses were prepared to testify that Sanders extensively patted Hunt down from head to toe and found neither weapons nor contraband.
“It was a big chance going to trial,” Nilson said. “You have someone who died and you have individual witnesses’ testimony that was not supportive of the police accounts and that would have been a problem in front of a jury.”
With only a few weeks left in the year, the city has spent more than $1 million to settle police misconduct lawsuits. In November, the board approved paying $107,500 to settle two other lawsuits.
Between mid-2007 and mid-2010, misconduct lawsuits filed against the Baltimore Police Department resulted in judgments and settlements of $7.25 million. To stem the losses, the city has revised its training and incident follow-up policies, Nilson has said.
Reservist’s suit settles
In a separate settlement Wednesday, the Board of Estimates also approved a $36,600 payment to close a lawsuit filed by a former assistant state’s attorney and U.S. Army reservist who was denied having his job back after he was called up for and returned from active duty.
Lt. Andrew Gross was hired by former Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia Jessamy’s office in 2009 to serve as an assistant state’s attorney in the city’s drug court for $72,000 a year. Gross was called up to active duty a short time later and was told his position would be held for him. When he returned from active duty, the position had been filled and Gross was not rehired.
He filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore against the city for violating the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Nilson said the matter was not resolved before State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein took office and the decision was made to settle the case for a half-year’s salary.
“Eventually, we all recognized the protective reach of the statute is pretty broad,” Nilson said.
Sheryl Hunt, Pers. Rep. Estate of
edward lamont hunt, et al. v. tommy sanders iii
Baltimore City Circuit Court
Audrey JS Carrion
Settled during trial
Event: Jan. 30, 2008
Suit filed: Nov. 19, 2009
Trial: May 31, 2011 – June 2, 2011
Jury verdict: N/A
A. Dwight Pettit
Michael Marshall of Schlachman, Belsky and Weiner P.A. in Baltimore.
Wrongful death, battery, false imprisonment and false arrest.
andrew gross v. the office of the state’s attorney, et al.
U.S. District Court, Baltimore
Benson Everett Legg
Event: Dec. 28, 2009
Suit filed: Sept. 19, 2011
Jury verdict: N/A
Steven D. Silverman, Andrew C. White and William N. Sinclair with Silverman Thompson Slutkin and White LLC in Baltimore.
Discrimination against persons who serve in the uniformed services in violation of USERRA.