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Baltimore City is still paying for the Gun Trace Task Force's misconduct, $6M settlement to slain driver's family

A Baltimore Police car and crime scene tape.
Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner
A Baltimore Police car and crime scene tape.

Baltimore City officials agreed to pay $6 million to the family of Elbert Davis Sr. who was killed in 2010 during a high-speed car chase that involved the Gun Trace Task Force, a notorious unit of the Baltimore City Police Department, that lied to officials and robbed citizens.

The Board of Estimates, the city’s spending board, unanimously approved the settlement on Wednesday morning. The city has now paid out $22.2 million across 39 settlements related to the task force’s misconduct.

More than a decade ago, Davis Sr. was on a drive with his longtime partner Phosa Cain in the passenger seat. As Davis drove through the intersection of Oak and Belle Avenue in Northwest Baltimore, his car was struck in a head-on collision with Umar Burley, who was fleeing members of the task force. Burley sped through several intersections after being stopped by members of the task force.

Baltimore City Police Department officers Wayne Jenkins, Ryan Guinn, and Sean Suiter stopped Burley and his friend, Brent Matthews, over suspected drug activity. The two men feared for their lives and fled while the officers gave chase, according to the lawsuit filed by attorneys for Davis’s daughter Shirley Johnson.

Johnson’s father died in the hospital just a few hours later. Cain was critically wounded but survived the accident. She died two years later.

In 2017, seven years after the car crash that killed Davis Sr., a Department of Justice investigation revealed that the police planted heroin in Burley’s car after the crash and after the two men fled on foot.

Davis’ surviving family alleged in the lawsuit that he would not have been killed if the rogue task force officers had not initiated the high-speed vehicle chase.

“This lawsuit was about justice and with the settlement the city has finally accepted responsibility for this tragedy,” said Judson H. Lipowitz, an attorney with the law firm Azrael, Franz, Schwab, Lipowitz & Solter LLC who represents the family. “Had the case gone to trial with these atrocious facts, the case could have been catastrophic for the city.”

The Davis family has been fighting for legal justice through lawsuits dating back to 2013.

Burley, the suspect police were chasing, pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter and possession with the intent to distribute heroin in 2011. Both he and Matthews, the other suspect, spent seven years in federal prison before being exonerated.

City Council President Nick Mosby supported the settlement but bemoaned the taxpayer money that could have been spent elsewhere.

“This is money that could be put into other resources throughout our city… and yet we are still required to pay out time and time again for actions for individuals who were literally called to protect and serve us,” Mosby said. “The residual impact that could have for our young folks, our homeless community, or folks dealing with mental illness is significant.”

Emily is a general assignment news reporter for WYPR.
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