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Who Should Pay Settlement For GTTF Police Misconduct?

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Dominique Maria Bonessi
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Lawyers for Baltimore City have conceded that former city cops—members of the disgraced Gun Trace Task Force--falsified search warrants and overtime reports, stole money, drugs and guns and planted evidence on citizens, sending some of those citizens to jail.

But they argued before the Maryland Court of Appeals Monday that the city shouldn’t have to pay the former cops’ victims.

In two test cases aimed at reducing the city’s liability by potentially untold millions of dollars, they said the former cops operated “outside the scope of their employment” in a “criminal enterprise”.

In the past with very few exceptions, the city taxpayers have always paid the settlements in police misconduct cases.

“These lawsuits can be expensive for the city,” said Justin Brown, a lawyer for Ivan Potts, one of those who had a gun planted on him.

“And there’s a desire on the part of the city officials to reduce their liability in these cases,” said Brown, who wasn’t arguing in the appeals court hearing, but represents Potts in a 2019 criminal case.

Justin Conroy, arguing for the city, pointed to a 1991 case in which the state’s highest court held a police officer, rather than the city, can be held liable for his actions under certain circumstances.

Conroy said the Gun Trace Task Force cops’ conduct was so outrageous that “it was a perversion of their entire job duties.”

What would the department even gain by these cops planting a gun, he asked.

Several of the seven judges pointed out that those arrests benefitted the police department’s crime statistics and public image. And the cops themselves were seen as “super cops” – which enabled them to operate the way did.

One judge said the Gun Trace Task Force would still be roaming the streets were it not for federal investigators.

And that leads us to Mandy Miliman, who was representing William James, another victim of a GTTF gun-planting incident. James is dead, but Miliman was arguing on his behalf.

“For the city to say, ‘we had no knowledge, this is rogue this criminal enterprise is totally something unforeseeable’ is just unfortunately inaccurate.” 

She pointed out that one of the Gun Trace Task Force’s crimes was overtime fraud. It was pervasive and widespread, she argued, and it is something that could have been sorted out “with a little oversight.”

Several members of the Gun Trace Task Force had already been the subject of numerous misconduct lawsuits, she said. But the department’s internal affairs division ignored the red flags and the officers were promoted to this specialized unit of plain-clothes cops.

“Today the city stands here and calls these officers criminals and gangsters,” she argued. “But in reality, the most fitting description of them is police officers.”

The department knew these officers were abusing their power on the streets, but did nothing, Miliman argued. Now, it’s the city’s responsibility to pay. 

If not, she said, the victims of these ex-cops who are now serving years in federal prison would be hard-pressed to collect any money.

Maryland's Court of Appeals is expected to return an opinion in the next few months. 

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