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Baltimore, police settle with ’16 Artscape protestors

A Baltimore judge has formally approved a settlement the city reached in August with a group of arrested protesters which requires the city and police to advocate for agreed-upon reforms as part of the federal consent decree process.

The plaintiffs were members of Baltimore Bloc and bystanders who were arrested at Artscape in 2016 for walking onto an Interstate 83 on-ramp or the interstate itself. They filed suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court last year and sought monetary and injunctive relief, but Debra Gardner, legal director at the Public Justice Center, said in August the police department could not promise to enact any negotiated reforms because it is in the middle of comprehensive reform efforts under the consent decree in U.S. District Court.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill approved the settlement Tuesday.

As part of the settlement negotiated between the parties — with input from the monitoring team implementing the consent decree — the city and police agreed to advocate for changes to policies for free speech and protest, fair and impartial policing and treatment of individuals in custody.

Rather than conducting drawn out litigation, the parties “engaged in a positive dialog in order to arrive at a fair resolution that empowered the community members to achieve the fundamental goal of their lawsuit, participating in, and in fact promoting, real systemic change in the Baltimore Police Department,” according to a joint statement from the city and police department.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who is overseeing the consent decree, observed that the process the parties engaged in was the kind of collaborative one he hoped to see under the decree, according to the city’s statement.

The lawsuit accused the police of “kettling” the protesters — conducting a mass arrest without giving people an opportunity to disperse — and the proposed policy changes address that concern, according to a news release from the Public Justice Center.

“BPD’s targeting of protesters because they exercised their right to free speech to call attention to police mistreatment was unconstitutional, and bad policy besides, in a city where the need for police reform is well-documented and acknowledged,” Gardner said in a statement.

The settlement also includes $145,000 to be split between the nine named plaintiffs. The city does not admit to any wrongdoing.

The case is Baltimore Bloc et al. v. Baltimore Police Department et al., 24C17003680.

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