BALTIMORE — Officials here approved a $6.4 million deal Wednesday to settle all civil claims tied to the death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal injury while being transported in a police van in April.
“All of us realize that money cannot, will not – there’s no possibility – to bring back a loved one,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said. “I hope that this settlement will bring a level of closure… to the Gray family, the community and the city.”
Rawlings-Blake is part of a five-person panel called the Board of Estimates that handles the city’s financial affairs and approved the settlement. The settlement does not “represent any judgment” on the guilt or innocence of the six police officers charged in the case, she said.
She and others on the panel said that the decision to settle with the family was weighed against the high cost of fighting an anticipated civil suit.
“We can avoid years and years of protracted civil litigation,” Rawlings-Blake said, which would be a “significant expense.”
Gray’s family negotiated the deal with city attorneys, a source close to the family told reporters. Family attorney Billy Murphy called the $6.4 million settlement “an extraordinary result.” Litigation, he said, puts family members “through hell.”
If a civil case went to court, he said, “it could easily have taken three years to resolve, and no grieving family wants to go through that,” he said. “And our city would not want to go through that.”
The officers charged in Gray’s death are not named in the settlement, said City Solicitor George Nilson.
The agreement “spares us all having the scab of April of this year picked over and over and over for five and six years to come,” he said.
Wednesday’s settlement came five months after Gray, 25, suffered a fatal spinal injury while being transported in a police van. His death in April sparked outrage that led to days of massive protests, including some that turned violent. Buildings went up in flames, and local businesses were devastated by vandalism and looting – despite the Gray family’s pleas for peace.
Gray’s death was among several police killings of black males across the country – including in California, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia and South Carolina – that reignited the debate over excessive police force and spawned a Black Lives Matter movement that is urging officials to provide increased training and body cameras for police officers.
Baltimore prosecutor Marilyn Mosby has said Gray’s injury occurred because he was handcuffed and shackled – but not buckled in – inside the police van. Six officers – three white and three black – will stand trial on charges ranging from assault to murder.
The officers – Caesar R. Goodson Jr., Garrett E. Miller, Edward M. Nero William G. Porter, Brian W. Rice and Alicia D. White – all have pleaded not guilty. The trial is expected to begin next month.
Settlement ‘obscene,’ union says
The head of Baltimore’s police union, which represents the six accused officers, said before the announcement that a settlement would be premature and “obscene.”
“To suggest that there is any reason to settle prior to the adjudication of the pending criminal cases is obscene and without regard to the fiduciary responsibility owed to (taxpayers),” said Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police.
“There has been no civil litigation filed, nor has there been any guilt determined that would require such a ridiculous reaction.”
Ryan had urged the city committee to reject the settlement pact.
“This news threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore city government,” he said.
In comments to reporters later Wednesday morning, the mayor reacted to Ryan’s comments.
“Gene’s statements continue to baffle me, because what this settlement does is remove any (civil) liability from the six officers,” she said.
The settlement, she said, ensures that however each officer’s criminal trial plays out, they cannot be sued in civil court.
The mayor and Murphy said they welcome the city police department using body cameras. Murphy said a body camera program could be implemented as early as this month.
CNN’s Holly Yan, Greg Botelho, Laura Ly and Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.