The parents of Freddie Gray have reached a tentative $6.4 million dollar (€5.7 million) settlement with the US city of Baltimore, nearly five months after their 25-year-old son was critically injured in police custody.
The deal is among the largest settlements in police death cases in recent years and took place just days before a judge decides whether to move a trial for six officers charged over Mr Gray’s death.
Mr Gray’s spine was injured on April 12 in the back of a prisoner transport van after he was arrested.
Mr Gray, a black man, died in hospital a week later, sparking days of protests and rioting.
In the aftermath, he became a symbol of the contentious relationship between the police and the public in Baltimore, Maryland, as well as the treatment of black men by police in America.
The settlement still needs the approval of a board that oversees city spending, with the board due to meet on Wednesday morning.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a news release: “The proposed settlement agreement going before the Board of Estimates should not be interpreted as a judgment on the guilt or innocence of the officers facing trial.”
The settlement does not resolve any factual disputes, and expressly does not constitute an admission of liability on the part of the city, its police department or any of the officers.
The settlement has nothing whatsoever to do with the criminal proceedings, the press release said.
Douglas Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey Law School, said the settlement is a step in restoring the public’s faith in local government and mending the relationship between the citizens of Baltimore and elected officials.
“It’s a big step toward a different type of policing,” Mr Colbert said, “and a relationship with the community that deters misconduct.”
In July, New York City settled for $5.9 million dollars (€5.2 million) with the family of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man who died after being put in a white police officer’s chokehold.
The city of Chicago settled in 2001 a wrongful death lawsuit by the family of LaTanya Haggerty, who was shot to death by police, for $18 million dollars (€16 million).
The proposed payment in the Mr Gray case is more than the $5.7 million dollars (€5 million) the city of Baltimore paid in total for 102 court judgments and settlements for alleged police misconduct between 2011 and last autumn, according to an investigation by The Baltimore Sun.
The city paid another $5.8 million dollars (€5.1 million) for legal fees to outside lawyers who represented officers, the newspaper reported.
But Eugene O’Donnell, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said such settlements are damaging for communities and self-serving for governments.
By paying off family members, Mr O’Donnell said, cities can prevent real scrutiny of political and social ills that allowed misconduct to occur.
“It’s all too easy to take public money and hand it over to people and say, ’Well, this is a big aberrational mistake and we’re going to make it good,’ and it generally absolves the policymakers and the people in power of responsibility, when in fact the mistakes are systemic and reflective of a lack of leadership,” he said.
Detective Donny Moses, a Baltimore Police Department spokesman, said the agency’s public affairs staff was under direct orders not to comment.
Billy Murphy, an attorney for the Gray family, also declined to comment.
The head of the city’s police union condemned the agreement and urged the Board of Estimates to reject it.
Lt. Gene Ryan said: “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 the taxpaying citizens of the city.”
All six officers, including Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, are charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.
Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer William Porter also face a manslaughter charge, while Officer Caesar Goodson faces the most serious charge of all: second-degree “depraved-heart” murder.