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Baltimore to pay $250K to man who shot video of Preakness arrest

The Baltimore Board of Estimates is set to approve a $250,000 settlement with an Owings Mills man who alleged police seized his cellphone and deleted video he took of his friend being arrested during the 2010 Preakness Stakes.

Christopher Sharp claimed police also deleted videos of his son and reset his phone while he was briefly detained, according to the lawsuit which sought unspecified compensatory damages.

The lawsuit also sought a permanent injunction preventing police from retaliating or punishing anyone who makes audio recordings of officers performing duties in public.

The settlement is listed on the city spending panel’s agenda for Wednesday but will actually be considered March 12.

Meredith Curtis, a spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which is representing Sharp, declined to comment on the terms of the settlement, noting that it must still be approved.

“The case brought by Christopher Sharp against the Baltimore City Police Department has played a key role nationally in championing the First Amendment right to videotape police actions in public,” Curtis said in a statement. “Mr. Sharp and the ACLU are heartened that progress towards an amicable settlement was finally made recently.”

City Solicitor George A. Nilson and Mary E. Borja, one of Sharp’s lawyers, also declined to comment because the settlement is pending. Borja was one of four lawyers from Wiley Rein LLP in Washington, D.C., handling the case pro bono.

Sharp was watching the 135th running of the Triple Crown race at Pimlico from the grandstand with two friends, Mark Dudek and Anna Chyzhova, according to his complaint. At the end of the racing day, the three met another friend, Kelli O’Neill, in the clubhouse. That’s where Sharp saw Chyzhova being “forcibly arrested” by police, according to the complaint.

Lawyers for the police department have denied Sharp’s allegations and countered in court filings that Sharp and Chyzhova were “engaged in a profanity-laced argument” with another patron, which led police to order them to leave Pimlico. Instead, Chyzhova returned to the ticket window and hit an unknown patron while Sharp followed, according to police.

Dudek was arrested after he tried to stop an officer from “beating” Chyzhova, Sharp alleged. (Dudek was acquitted based on video from Pimlico’s security cameras, according to the complaint.)

An officer noticed Sharp filming the incident on his phone and asked Sharp to turn over the phone, the complaint says. Sharp declined and again refused to hand over his phone to another officer who asked, according to the lawsuit.

Only after another officer said police “needed to review his videos and possibly make a copy of them to be used as evidence” did Sharp hand over the phone to an unidentified officer, he alleged.

“Intimidated by the barrage of demands and fearing arrest if he continued to refuse them, Mr. Sharp reluctantly surrendered his phone,” the complaint states.

Lawyers for police said officers did not prevent Sharp from filming Chyzhova’s arrest and that Sharp at first declined to give police his phone “without suffering any consequence,” according to court documents.

The lawsuit was filed in August 2011 in Baltimore City Circuit Court but was removed to U.S. District Court that October, according to court records. Nothing had been filed in the case since last September, according to online court records.

In March 2013, a judge awarded Sharp $1,000 in damages from police for discovery violations. U.S. Magistrate Susan K. Gauvey threw out defense attempts to subpoena Sharp’s medical records concerning a 2007, court-ordered hair follicle test for drugs, his work records and his cell phone records for five months after his phone was seized.

Gauvey also chided defense lawyers for contacting the boyfriend and mother of Sharp’s ex-wife, allegedly to encourage Sharp to drop his suit, and for “working the plaintiff over” during a deposition.

“It was an appalling and apparent attempt to squeeze the plaintiff with questions that would almost certainly never be permitted in Court,” Gauvey wrote. “Counsel’s questions went beyond zealous defense of his client to a not so subtle attempt to intimidate the plaintiff.”

The case is one of two on the board’s agenda for Wednesday.

In the second case, the Board of Estimates is scheduled to approve a $35,000 settlement to the family of a student at Baltimore Freedom Academy, a charter middle- and high-school. The family alleged a teacher slammed a door on the boy’s hand, requiring surgery. The city says the teacher closed the door without knowing the boy’s hand was there.