BALTIMORE – The Baltimore Police union warned members Tuesday night that a policy change by the city solicitor’s office could leave them personally on the hook for payouts from lawsuits. This will have a chilling impact on cops in the city.
As a result, police union president Gene Ryan said in an email message to union members that the city had “generally supported” officers in the past by paying punitive damages as well as compensatory damages awarded in civil jury trials.
However, he said new city solicitor Andre Davis, a former federal judge who joined the city last year, has changed that policy.
This is Ryan’s message to the membership:
Dear FOP Members,
Many of our officers are sued for monetary damages by individuals they have arrested or have come in contact with. These lawsuits allege wrongdoing on the part of the officer and oftentimes allege that the officer acted with malice. Malice means that the officer’s alleged actions were motivated by a personal hatred towards the individual suing him or her. If the person suing the officer wins on the question of whether the officer committed a wrong, the Plaintiff can recover monetary damages to compensate him or her for any injury and/or expenses incurred resulting from the officer’s actions. If a jury finds that the officer acted with malice, the jury has the option to award punitive damages which are designed to punish the officer and to serve as a deterrent to the officer not to repeat the alleged wrongful conduct found to have occurred by the jury.
Most times, the officer who is being sued will dispute the allegations made by a Plaintiff and successfully defend a claim for punitive damages. However, 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 consistent with the rules and regulations of the Baltimore Police Department. In the past, the City of Baltimore has generally supported the officers by paying punitive damages as well as the compensatory damages awarded for the actual injury. Since Andre Davis has been named as our new City Solicitor, he has adopted a policy of not paying any punitive damages despite the fact that the Police Officer has been found to have acted appropriately by the office of the State’s Attorney as well as the Baltimore Police Department.
What this 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. Since punitive damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, the successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25% of your net bi-weekly pay check until the amount of the punitive judgement is satisfied.
Please keep this in mind as you go about performing your duties.
Gene S. Ryan
Earthquake going through the Baltimore police force after this message blasted out by union about city no longer covering punitive damages in lawsuits: “The successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25% of your pay … Please keep this in mind” pic.twitter.com/uwFTm7Tg1A
— Justin Fenton (@justin_fenton) February 7, 2018
In one recent lawsuit against police, a jury returned a verdict for $147,100 in economic and noneconomic damages, as well as $40,000 in punitive damages, with the jury finding that officers acted with “actual malice,” reported The Baltimore Sun.
City officials could not immediately be reached Tuesday night to discuss the union’s message, but told The Baltimore Sun recently that they are not liable for punitive damages and cited state law.
The union message reverberated among officers, who expressed concern about its potential impact. If proactive policing wasn’t already defeated in Baltimore, this will surely be the death knell of it. It all likelihood, the affect will be worse than that.