The Baltimore City Board of Estimates Wednesday approved a settlement of $9 million to a man who spent 21 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
City Council President Jack Young says he’s tired of the city’s paying out settlements for cases involving police officers not doing their jobs.
In 1988, James Owens was convicted in the murder of a 24-year-old woman in southeast Baltimore. He was released in 2008 after DNA tests cleared him. He sued the city in 2011, charging police and prosecutors intentionally withheld exculpatory evidence.
As he voted to approve the settlement today, Young agreed Owens should be compensated, but he said the city shouldn’t be the only one on the hook for all the money.
“FOP should be party to this settlement and some of that money should come out of their funds,” says Young. “I’m just tired of all these funds coming out of the tax payers of Baltimore City.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh refused to comment more than saying that $9 million was a lot of money.
“$9 million dollars can go a long way for rec centers, jobs for our youth. That’s a lot of money,” says Young.
That infuriated Gene Ryan, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.
“That’s a ludicrous comment because number one we are not the employer,” says Ryan. “The city is responsible for the employees, not the union. So for him to say that that’s totally ridiculous.”
In a statement on Twitter, Ryan said that Owen’s guilt and sentence was not the responsibility of the FOP.
“At the very least, we believe, that the strong fiduciary responsibility requires the Board of Estimates to consider settlements only after all the facts are considered,” wrote Ryan.
— Baltimore City FOP (@FOP3) May 2, 2018
This is the largest alleged police misconduct settlement since awarding $6.4 million to Freddie Gray’s family last year.
Ryan says while Gray’s death was a tragedy, Gray’s family “shouldn’t have been awarded anything because it was found by two different entities that our officers didn’t do anything wrong.”
Ryan says the FOP has criticized the city for years for settling cases before trying them in court.
“Our officers want to fight the cases, the city doesn’t want to spend the money to fight the cases,” says Ryan. “They rather pay out.”
Prior to Owen's case this year, the city has paid over $266,000 for eight other settlements. During the $1 million settlement for Tyrone West’s family in July of last year, former City Solicitor David Ralph said, “The settlement, like most, brings finality to the city and to the family.”
In June of last year, the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union announced two separate lawsuits against Baltimore City to overturn gag orders contained in the settlements of alleged police misconduct cases.
Reporters from the Baltimore Brew and The Real News Network, were also plantiffs in the ACLU suit against Baltimore city. They argued the gag orders deny their First Amendment rights to obtain information from victims of alleged police abuse.