Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

State reaches $7M settlement with Baltimore Detention Center beating victim

Daquan Wallace, left, and his attorney, Cary J. Hansell, at the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday. (Submitted Photo)

Daquan Wallace, left, and his attorney, Cary J. Hansell, at the Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday. (Submitted Photo)

Maryland will pay $7 million to settle the pending state Supreme Court appeal of a man who was savagely beaten while in state custody and whose jury award of $25 million had been slashed to $200,000 under the Maryland Tort Claims Act.

The Board of Public Works on Wednesday unanimously approved the settlement with Daquan Wallace before the high court could hear arguments that MTCA’s damages cap violates the state constitution’s guarantee of a just legal remedy for the 2014 beating he suffered at the Baltimore Detention Center. The assault has left Wallace with extensive injuries, including the inability to walk or speak.

Wallace’s attorney, Cary J. Hansel III, said he would have welcomed the now-canceled opportunity to challenge the cap’s constitutionality but the $7 million is critical for the intensive care Wallace needs and the risk of losing at the high court was too great for his client, whose costs far exceed $200,000.

Hansel said the settlement was also in the state’s interest as Maryland faced the risk that the justices would have held the cap unconstitutional.

“The court will eventually have to wrestle with the question of how to proceed in the catastrophic cases where the cap is constitutionally unjust,” said Hansel, of Hansel Law PC in Baltimore. “The settlement reflects the state’s acknowledgment that the cap is unjust as applied in this case.”

He added that “in a just world” Wallace, 28, would have received the $25 million the jury awarded.

According to trial testimony, Wallace was pummeled by gang members as guards looked on or away.

A Baltimore City Circuit Court jury found the state liable for failing to protect Wallace from the violence, engaging in policies or practices that violated Wallace’s rights under the Maryland Constitution and negligently training or supervising its guards. The jurors awarded Wallace $15 million in damages based on the state’s negligence and $10 million based on the state’s violation of his constitutional rights.

The trial judge, citing the MTCA, reduced the award to $200,000 and the Maryland Appellate Court agreed in an unreported opinion.

The Supreme Court in November granted Hansel’s request for review and scheduled arguments for March but stayed proceedings in light of the settlement.

Wallace and his mother, Nicole, attended the Board of Public Works session at the Maryland State House and were welcomed by Gov. Wes Moore, who chairs the three-member panel.

“It’s great to have you here,” Moore said from the dais he shared with Comptroller Brooke Lierman and Treasurer Dereck Davis. “Thank you so much for being here with us.”

Davis, in voting for the settlement, voiced his disgust with the detention center guards that day.

“We need this money, but instead we’re paying it out for improper, unacceptable behavior,” Davis said.

“I know the job is difficult, but they accepted the responsibility and you have to have a certain level of accountability as a worker,” Davis added. “If they are aligning with certain criminal forces then they have to join those forces as guests of the state, as far as I’m concerned.”

Moore said such conduct by guards would not be tolerated in his administration.

“In this time and in this moment, these types of issues can and they will be addressed,” Moore said. “Your frustration is shared.”

After the settlement’s approval, Hansel said Wallace is “looking forward to getting the treatment that he needs to, in his eyes, hopefully walk again. His doctors don’t think that he will but he believes he will, and I’m on his team in that regard.”

Hansel, in his successful petition for Supreme Court review, stated that under Article 19 of the Maryland Constitution’s Declaration of Rights, judges should be empowered to set a just, minimum recovery that need not be as high as the jury’s verdict but need not be as low as the MTCA cap, which is now $400,000.

“This case highlights the unconstitutional impact of the MTCA in extreme cases such as Daquan’s – after enduring utter agony for years due to his injuries, including the vicious attack itself, the coma, the tracheotomy, the feeding tube, confinement to a wheelchair, muteness, over a year without being able to communicate and the inability and indignities of not being able to bathe, use the restroom or engage in any of the activities of daily living unassisted, he is set to receive not even a single penny for his pain, his suffering, his permanent disabilities, or any of the past and future expenses that he will now be forced to endure as a result of his condition,” Hansel wrote.

“Despite Daquan’s severe injuries and how egregiously inadequate $200,000 is as a remedy, (the Maryland Appellate Court) refused … to even consider whether the MTCA cap could provide a constitutionally adequate remedy to Daquan,” Hansel added. “This ruling leaves the state unfettered by its own constitution, contrary to every principle of democratic constitutionalism underpinning our government.”

Assistant Maryland Attorney General Laura Mullally countered that the limitation on damages is constitutional.

The “sovereign immunity” doctrine protects the state from being sued unless the protection is waived by an act of the General Assembly. With the MTCA, the General Assembly waived the immunity in personal injury lawsuits with the qualification that damages would be limited, Mullally wrote in the state’s unsuccessful request that the high court deny Wallace’s appeal.

“Even if the limitation were a ‘cap’ on damages, setting a limitation on damages is a constitutional and inherently legislative, not judicial, function,” Mullally added. “The intermediate appellate court properly rejected Mr. Wallace’s Article 19 argument when it concluded that it could not expand the state’s waiver of sovereign immunity.”

In addition to resolving the state court claim, the $7 million settlement ended Wallace’s pending federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Former Gov. Larry Hogan, who took office after Wallace’s beating in 2014, closed the Baltimore Detention Center in 2015.