As political pressure mounts on Baltimore prosecutors to begin a grand jury investigation of the police shooting of Larry Hubbard, attorney Johnnie Cochran and other lawyers representing Hubbard's family are scheduled to meet with city officials today.
The meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m. in the office of City Solicitor Thurman Zollicoffer Jr., will seek ways to avoid a multimillion dollar civil suit against the city, say sources familiar with the details. The sources said the participants had hoped to keep it a secret.
A suit, some city officials worry, could spark a divisive trial that could weaken Mayor Martin O'Malley's support among African-Americans. O'Malley, who will not attend the meeting, finds himself wedged between what he sees as two negatives: either a protracted, high-profile, racially tinged civil trial or, if he chooses to settle the case, enraged city Police Department and union officials.
"It is a concern whenever you have a volatile issue like this," said Tony White, the mayor's press secretary. "But the mayor is most concerned about justice being served, and there is not always an easy, clear-cut road to get there."
Zollicoffer and White said yesterday the administration must wait until State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy's office concludes its investigation into the shooting, which could result in the convening of a grand jury, before it considers a possible settlement with Hubbard family attorneys.
While White said the city "is a long way" from reaching a settlement, this morning's meeting has caused police union officials to warn O'Malley that any deal would damage relations with the Police Department and cripple officers' morale.
"The mayor is very supportive of the Police Department, and I do not think he will undermine the police officers on the street," said Gary McLhinney, president of the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. "Let's see what evidence they have before we talk about handing them taxpayers dollars."
Hubbard was shot in the back of the head and killed Oct. 6 in the 2000 block of Barclay St. when Officers Barry W. Hamilton and Robert J. Quick tried to arrest him for fleeing from a stolen car. Police said Hubbard resisted arrest, pinned Quick to the ground and tried to grab his gun. Hamilton, fearing for Quick's life, then shot Hubbard, police said.
But a dozen witnesses said both officers, who are white, punched and kicked Hubbard, who is black, and that Hamilton shot him as Hubbard pleaded for his life.
The shooting, described by some political and community leaders as a racial incident, resulted in seven private and public investigations and several protests, and became an issue in last fall's mayoral election. On Oct. 13, during a campaign forum disrupted by protesters, O'Malley pledged the Hubbard incident would be "truly and fully investigated" at the beginning of his term.
Some black state legislators are increasing political pressure on Jessamy, whom they criticize for so far failing to send the Hubbard case to a grand jury.
"This case should have been before the grand jury in November," said state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV, a Democrat representing the 44th District. "The state's attorney is just not taking cases in a speedy manner."
Mitchell, as a result of the Hubbard shooting, has introduced legislation in Annapolis that would give the state special prosecutor power to review a local state's attorney's decision to not send the case to a grand jury. Mitchell expects his bill to move out of committee early next week; a similar bill has been introduced in the House.