City panel votes down settlement for teen left shoeless in Howard Co.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake objected to $150,000 payout to teen's family

August 08, 2012|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

The city's spending panel on Wednesday voted down a $150,000 settlement for the family of a Baltimore teen whom police left shoeless in Howard County — a rare move that came after MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeobjected to the deal.

"In this case two officers were found guilty of misconduct while in office," Rawlings-Blake said, arguing that taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill for the officers' actions. "Police officers who detained and transported a juvenile outside of the city, leaving him deserted in a wooded area without shoes and socks, are not acting in the scope of their employment."

The panel voted 4-0 against the settlement. City Solicitor George Nilson, who initially approved the deal, abstained. Lawyers representing the teen have said they will now proceed with their $100 million lawsuit against the officers.

Last month, a city judge ordered the Board of Estimates to vote publicly on the matter after he learned city officials had killed the settlement during a closed-door meeting. Attorneys suing the officers had asked the judge for such an order, claiming the city was playing an "unethical shell game" with the case.

Attorneys A. Dwight Pettit and Allan Rabineau had filed the lawsuit against officers Milton Smith III, Tyrone Francis and Gregory Hellen, who were accused of picking up two West Baltimore teens in 2009 to gather information and driving one to East Baltimore and dropping the other off in a Howard County park. They represent a 15-year-old who was found without shoes 11 miles from his home in Patapsco Valley State Park.

In February, attorneys representing the officers, including Nilson, agreed to settle the suit for $150,000. Both sides signed the agreement, and the judge canceled a March trial date and closed the case.

But then Rawlings-Blake objected to the settlement, and Nilson never took it to the Board of Estimates, which votes publicly on financial transactions more than $50,000. Nilson said city officials who met during a staff meeting "were trying to be efficient" by not seeking a vote.

In a related criminal case, Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein prosecuted the officers in 2011. A jury acquitted the officers of kidnapping, but convicted two of them — Smith and Francis — of misconduct, a misdemeanor. Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory at the time criticized Hellen, who was acquitted, for employing "cowboy tactics."

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