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BPW approves settlement of claims against state police over Davis’ objections

Bryan P. Sears//January 4, 2023

BPW approves settlement of claims against state police over Davis’ objections

By Bryan P. Sears

//January 4, 2023

Treasurer Dereck Davis and Gov. Larry Hogan at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting. “We’re sweeping this under the rug with a $75,000 check,” said Davis of a settlement to resolve excessive use of force claims against the state police. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — A state panel Wednesday voted to approve the settlement of an excessive force lawsuit with the Maryland State Police over the objections of the state treasurer.

The three-member Board of Public Works approved a $75,000 settlement of a lawsuit involving claims of excessive force. Treasurer Dereck Davis, a member of the panel, raised concerns about the incident and said it evoked images of the fight for civil rights more than 50 years ago in the segregated South.

“I have, for me, I have a greater responsibility than just being a bean counter and counting the dollars and cents,” said Davis, who is Black.  “I have a responsibility to the citizens of the state of Maryland— all of us. We can’t have that. We cannot have dogs being turned on people unless it’s in some manner absolutely necessary.”

The settlement proposal involved Ikiem Smith, who was arrested during a traffic stop in Cecil County in February 2017.

The payment was approved by a 2-to-1 vote of the board, with Davis casting the vote against. The other two members of the board, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, voted to approve the payment without comment.

In 2017, Smith, who had a criminal record extending back to the 1990s involving drugs and other offenses and was the subject of a state police investigation involving a stolen handgun, was involved in a traffic stop in Cecil County.

After pulling to the shoulder, Smith allegedly drove away, initiating a chase involving as many as eight police cars along a three-mile route.

At the end of the chase, Smith was arrested,

Smith filed suit in federal court accusing five Maryland State Police troopers of using excessive force and violating his constitutional rights. 

In his lawsuit, Smith alleged that he was thrown to the ground and detained. At one point, one of the officers removed his shoe and sock and ordered a police dog to bite his foot.

He sought compensatory and punitive damages against the troopers of nearly $8 million.

Four of the five troopers are white. Smith is Black.

Davis acknowledged that some facts of the stop were in dispute and said much about the incident remains unknown because troopers did not use video recorders. Attorneys for the state were seeking to settle the claim because of the potential that a jury could impose a stiff penalty against the agency, Davis said.

But the treasurer said he was troubled by findings that cleared the troopers of criminal wrongdoing. The troopers were also not disciplined, he said.

“We’re sweeping this under the rug with a $75,000 check,” he said, adding he’d rather see the case go to court so that all the facts could be made public.

“If we’re not speaking on it, if we’re not pointing it out, we’re assuming if we write this check, it will go away,” said Davis.

“It harkens back to that ’50s and ’60s imagery of what we saw in places like Birmingham Alabama where we turned hoses and dogs and so forth on people,” said Davis. “This isn’t about this particular defendant and his guilt or innocence or why it occurred. It’s bigger than (Smith).”

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