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Baltimore, state seek dismissal from lawsuit over GTTF-related fatal crash

In this October 2016 photo released by the Baltimore police, officers, Det. Evodio Hendrix, Det. Marcus Taylor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Det. Jemell Rayam, Det. Maurice Ward, from left, are seen in Baltimore. Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys are set to make their closing arguments Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018, in the trial of two Baltimore detectives, Marcus Taylor and Daniel Hersl, fighting racketeering and robbery charges. The case involves one of the worst U.S. police corruption scandals in recent memory. (Baltimore Police Department/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

In this October 2016 photo released by the Baltimore police, officers, Det. Evodio Hendrix, Det. Marcus Taylor, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, Det. Jemell Rayam, Det. Maurice Ward, from left, are seen in Baltimore. (Baltimore Police Department/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

Baltimore and the state are asking a federal judge to dismiss them from a lawsuit over a fatal car chase initiated by members of the Gun Trace Task Force because state and federal law prohibit the claims against them.

The government defendants filed separate motions last week to dismiss the case filed by family members of Elbert Davis Sr., who died in a 2010 collision with a car driven by Umar Burley. Burley and his passenger were fleeing an unmarked vehicle driven by GTTF Sgt. Wayne Earl Jenkins and a second vehicle driven by detective Sean Suiter, who was working with the task force.

The defendant officers are accused of planting drugs on Burley and his passenger and failing to render aid to Davis. Jenkins admitted to the incident in his January plea agreement.

Burley and his passenger both ended up pleading guilty to various charges stemming from the incident only to have their convictions vacated after eight GTTF officers were federally indicted. They have filed their own federal lawsuit.

In addition to federal constitutional claims, the Davis family’s complaint alleges state torts including wrongful death, survival action and negligence.

According to the state’s motion to dismiss, under Maryland law the Baltimore Police Department is a local government entity and the state cannot be held vicariously liable for any alleged torts of the department. The state is also not a “person” for the purposes of a federal claim alleging a pattern of unconstitutional policing and failure to train and supervise officers.

The mayor and City Council of Baltimore claim the lawsuit does not state a viable claim against the city because it does not have legal control over the police department, a separate government entity, “as a matter of long-standing Maryland law.”

The city cites recent U.S. District Court decisions dismissing claims from police misconduct cases because of the “mountain of law insisting the City does not sufficiently control the BPD or Baltimore police officers.”

Though Baltimore can theoretically be sued for federal civil rights violations where it was responsible for a policy or decision that lead to unconstitutional policing, the motion argues the complaint cannot meet the “host of legal and causation requirements” to succeed. The lawsuit does not name a city policy that led to the plaintiffs’ injuries, and the city is not a final policy maker for the department.

Baltimore’s motion also argues the plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the statute of limitations because the incident occurred in 2010 and the complaint was filed more than eight years later.

No other defendants have filed motions to dismiss as of Monday.

The case is Shirley Johnson et al. v. Baltimore City Police Department et al., 1:18-cv-02375.


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