Baltimore, MD – A policy enacted by Baltimore City Solicitor Andre Davis left police officers personally liable for payment of punitive and compensatory damages in the event an officer was civilly sued – even if the officer was cleared of wrongdoing by the State’s Attorney and the department, the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) said.
But in a Wednesday morning rebuttal, Davis argued that the FOP “incorrectly suggested that there has been a change of policy,” and said that Ryan’s statement was “flatly wrong in several respects and deeply misleading in other respects.”
“The FOP’s leadership’s message seems to be an attempt to dissuade officers from continuing to do their challenging jobs in good faith” that the city would continue to protect them from “baseless lawsuits,” Davis said.
FOP president Gene Ryan notified union members of Davis’ purported policy change in a Facebook message on Tuesday night, FOP Treasurer John Nolan told Blue Lives Matter.
“Many of our officers are sued for monetary damages by individuals they have arrested or have come in contact with,” Ryan wrote in the notification. “These lawsuits allege wrongdoing on the part of the officer and oftentimes allege that the officer acted with malice...that the officer’s alleged actions were motivated by a personal hatred towards the individual suing him or her.”
Ryan explained that, if an officer was found to have “committed a wrong,” plaintiffs could be awarded monetary damages for direct expenses they incurred.
If an officer was found to have acted with malice, the jury may also opt to award “punitive damages which are designed to punish the officer and to serve as a deterrent to the officer,” Ryan wrote.
Although officers were usually cleared of wrongdoing, “many juries award punitive damages despite the lack of evidence of malice, even in cases where the police officer has not been charged criminally and been found to have acted within the scope of his/her duties,” he explained.
All it takes is an anti-police jury.
The City of Baltimore has “generally supported” police by paying damages awarded by juries in civil claims cases in the past, Ryan said.
Davis’ new policy has divisively withdrawn that support, he said.
“What this is means is that police officers are now required to pay these punitive damage awards, which can amount to thousands of dollars, out of their own pockets,” Ryan wrote. “Since punitive damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, the successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25 percent of your bi-weekly pay check until the amount of the punitive judgment is satisfied.”
“Please keep this in mind as you go about performing your duties,” he cautioned union members.
Nolan noted that although Davis initiated the policy change, he works for the mayor.
“We can only assume the mayor’s aware and involved,” he told Blue Lives Matter, adding that the FOP is already addressing the change with city officials.
“We’re actively trying to resolve the issue, because it’s a change in policy with the city,” Nolan said. “[We’re] trying to convince the city to reverse the decision.”
In his Wednesday press release, Davis argued that the Local Government Tort Claims Act, as well as state appellate courts’ interpretations of the tort statute, “does not require local governments to pay punitive damages and prohibits local governments from entering into agreements to pay them in all cases.”
Davis said that this policy had been in effect in the city of Baltimore “for many decades.”
“Any assertion to the contrary is at best misinformed, and at worst, intentionally misleading,” he said.
Davis disagreed with Ryan’s assertion that punitive damages “are often awarded” in instances where officers are cleared of wrongdoing.
“Such cases are rare,” he said.
Davis added that he was “committed to doing everything possible” to overturn awards in cases where “punitive damages were awarded inappropriately.”
He did not deny Ryan’s assertion that officers could be forced to pay damages out of their own pockets, but argued that other outcomes could also occur.
“Employees, including police officers who, no doubt have the most difficult job in government, are not privileged to inflict gratuitous injury on others without also incurring personal consequences,” Davis wrote. “I have made clear that I will consider on a case-by-case basis any officer’s request for indemnification as to a particular award of punitive damages.”