Baltimore County has agreed to pay $6.5 million to the family of a man fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop on an interstate highway two years ago.
The agreement settles the family’s federal lawsuit alleging that the officer who shot Eric J. Sopp on Nov. 26, 2019, needlessly escalated the encounter with the suicidal, depressed and unarmed man before unjustifiably shooting him.
The lawsuit, filed last October in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, also claimed that Baltimore County police officers “routinely use excessive and deadly force” during encounters with people dealing with a mental crisis.
The county admitted no wrongdoing in agreeing to the settlement, which the family’s counsel announced Tuesday.
Baltimore County spokesman Sean Naron stated via email Tuesday that “the county considers this matter resolved and has no further comment at this time.”
In body camera footage provided by the family’s counsel, an officer is seen telling Sopp, 48, to put his car in park on Interstate 83 and place his hands on the dashboard. Sopp is then heard saying he is getting out of the car and the officer tells him not to. When Sopp gets out of the vehicle, the officer fires eight times.
The Baltimore County state’s attorney’s office declined to bring criminal charges against the officer, identified in the lawsuit as Gregory Page. The office concluded last year that the shooting was justified.
Andrew D. Freeman, an attorney for Sopp’s family, said in a statement Tuesday that the case and its settlement should serve as a lesson to police departments and their officers.
“Police everywhere, and especially in Baltimore County, need to learn to de-escalate encounters with police in distress,” said Freeman, of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP in Baltimore. “Meaningful change will only occur if the county strengthens its crisis intervention programs, provides mandatory training for all police officers, and hires additional crisis intervention personnel.”
Chelsea J. Crawford, also of Brown Goldstein, served as Freeman’s co-counsel.
According to the lawsuit, Sopp’s mother called 911 on the fateful day saying her suicidal son had been drinking heavily and was now driving. The dispatcher relayed the information to Page, adding there was no indication Sopp was armed.
Page saw Sopp driving on I-83 and pulled him over.
“He (Sopp) had no weapons on him or in his vehicle, and his hands were empty when Officer Page fired all eight rounds of his service weapon,” the family’s complaint stated.
“Mr. Sopp’s death was unjustified,” the complaint added. “He posed no immediate threat to Officer Page’s safety, and a reasonable officer under the same circumstances would not have responded with deadly force. Rather than de-escalating an encounter with a suicidal and depressed man, Officer Page aggressively escalated it by pointing his weapon at Mr. Sopp, barking multiple and conflicting commands, and ultimately shooting him without justification.”
Sopp’s mother, Catherine Sopp, was joined in the lawsuit by his two teenage sons, identified in court papers as A.S. and J.S.
The lawsuit is docketed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore as Estate of Eric John Sopp et al. v. Baltimore County, Md., et al., No. 1:20-cv-03123-SAG.