The Baltimore city board has unanimously approved a $6.4 million settlement between the city and the family of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died a week after he was critically injured while in police custody.
The approval came Wednesday morning, just a day before Judge Barry Williams will decide whether the trials for six officers charged in Gray's death should be moved to a different jurisdiction. Defense attorneys have asked for a change of venue, citing pre-trial publicity and concern that the officers won't get fair trials if they're tried in Baltimore.
The settlement appears to be among the largest such payments in police death cases in recent years.
On Tuesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a news release 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 news release said.
"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," Rawlings-Blake said. "This settlement is being proposed solely because it is in the best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation that would only make it more difficult for our city to heal and potentially cost taxpayers many millions more in damages."
Detective Donny Moses, a Baltimore Police Department spokesman, said the agency's public affairs staff was under direct orders not to comment on the proposed settlement.
"It really is not a police department matter," he said, referring questions to the city solicitor's office.
Initial police reports said Gray was arrested with a knife, though whether Gray was legally carrying that knife is sure to be a centerpiece of the case as it moves to trial. Prosecutors say it's legal under a city ordinance, while defense attorneys argue that it's a switchblade, and thus illegal under both city and state law.
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.
Three of the officers are black and three are white.