City Settles Abuse Lawsuit

$2 Million Sum Leaves Lawyer Who Won $44 Million Verdict For Inmate 'Outraged'

December 24, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

In August 2006, a Baltimore jury awarded Albert Mosley $44 million after concluding that he became paralyzed when a city police officer threw him against a jail cell wall.

Baltimore officials have now agreed to pay less than 5 percent of that amount, with the city's spending panel approving $2 million Wednesday to settle the matter.

The vote ends years of litigation, but the final payout has left Mosley's attorney "outraged" even after he negotiated the deal.

"That all we can do is pay $2 million to a quadriplegic under these circumstances should tell the public that the city has no heart or soul about the victims of police brutality," said attorney William H. Murphy Jr.

Many lawyers in Murphy's position ultimately determine that accepting a smaller one-time payment from the city is preferable to trying to recoup a larger amount through a percentage of the officer's wages over time.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson said that he never agreed with the jury's finding, saying that the officer, Bryan Kershaw, was "just doing his job." Nilson called the incident a "terrible accident."

Police union President Robert F. Cherry complimented the city for "standing behind" Kershaw. Kershaw could not be reached for comment.

The confrontation occurred in June 2003, after Mosley was arrested for a probation violation. Intoxicated and handcuffed, Mosley became loud and unruly behind bars at the Western District police station. Kershaw got into a yelling match with Mosley and entered the cell.

Mosley says the officer picked him up and tossed him against the wall. Mosley remained on the cell floor for about 45 minutes, immobile and bleeding from a gash over his left eye, he says, while calls for help were ignored. He is now cared for in a state-run facility in Towson.

Kershaw said in court papers that he had pushed Mosley "in a controlled manner" because Mosley was trying to escape and appeared ready to spit. The officer said that he immediately called for medical help. He was cleared after an internal investigation and is now a homicide detective.

Mosley filed a civil suit against Kershaw in 2005. The jury awarded $44 million, but the trial judge reduced the award to $19 million, records show. A series of appeals, including a decision by the state's highest court, affirmed the jury's finding.

But collecting the money had been more difficult. As the city negotiated a settlement, Kershaw's wages were garnisheed for a year, said Anthony J. Guglielmi, a spokesman for the city's Police Department.

Nilson said the settlement had been budgeted into this year's spending plan and said the city has a responsibility to protect officers financially.

"It is bad enough he is risking his life," Nilson said. "If he conducts himself in a reasonable manner, he should not be left holding the bag."

Though the amount paid is significantly less than the jury's intention, lawyers who have sued city officers said such reductions are common.

"All you can do is get your jury verdict and then try to collect it," said A. Dwight Pettit, a plaintiffs' attorney who was not involved in the Mosley case. "And collecting it is harder than getting the verdict."

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