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Salisbury hands over settlement documents in ACLU suit

The city of Salisbury has turned over documents related to a confidential settlement agreement in an excessive force lawsuit to the ACLU of Maryland.

The city turned over the records after a Wicomico County Circuit Court judge issued an order last week.

The ACLU and the Real News Network, which also sought the documents, are reviewing the materials to determine whether the city met its obligation under the Maryland Public Information Act request, said Nick Steiner, an attorney with the ACLU, on Friday.

Steiner said the plaintiffs are “still considering how to proceed.”

Judge W. Newton Jackson III ordered the release of the records within 10 days in its order on Aug. 22, according to an ACLU press release.

Salisbury filed in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, but attorneys for the city did not attend last week’s hearing to argue against the motion. The city did not file a motion to reconsider.

Ernest I. “Skip” Cornbrooks IV, a lawyer for the city, declined to comment Friday. Cornbrooks is a partner at Karpinski, Colaresi & Karp P.A. in Baltimore.

The plaintiffs filed MPIA requests related to the resolution of a lawsuit brought by four Salisbury University students. The MPIA requests asked for the settlement agreement, correspondence between the parties and officials about terms, documents related to budgetary approval and other records. The city responded it had none of the documents requested.

Jackson denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in May, rejecting the city’s argument that it never prepared or possessed documents about the settlement because the litigation was handled by Local Government Insurance Trust. Jackson ruled the LGIT was an agent of the city.

The city also claimed that various privileges exempted the requested documents from the MPIA, but Jackson determined it was premature to determine if that were the case at the motion to dismiss stage.

The ACLU of Maryland will eventually make the settlement documents public, Steiner said. He declined to share them on Friday.

The next step is for both sides to file a joint status report with the court, Steiner said.

The case is American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Maryland et al. vs. City of Salisbury et al., C-22-CV-17-000440.

In the underlying case, the plaintiffs were in a group of about 25 people who had congregated in a parking lot by a restaurant near the school in May 2014 when police officers arrived to disperse the crowd. As the students headed back toward the school via a tunnel under Route 13, they claimed, an officer grabbed one of the plaintiffs and threw him to the ground without provocation. The three other plaintiffs were similarly attacked, according to the lawsuit.

Three of the plaintiffs were charged with failing to obey and held overnight in jail but ultimately were found not guilty in separate trials.

Daily Record Trial Courts Reporter Heather Cobun contributed to this article.

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