After settling Freddie Gray case for $6.4 million, Baltimore mayor says she won’t run again

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, has announced that she will not seek re-election. The beleaguered mayor had been building a campaign infrastructure and holding fundraisers.

Why the about face? Rawlings-Blake explained, “it was a very difficult decision, but I knew I needed to spend time, the remaining 15 months of my term, focused on the city’s future and not my own.”

How selfless.

Baltimore’s future is parlous, thanks in no small measure to Rawlings-Blake. When the city teetered on the brink of violence after Freddie Gray’s death, Rawlings-Blake described her policy towards protesters this way: “While we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars and the other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

When the rioting turned truly ugly, Rawlings-Blake told the police to stand down, according to a senior law enforcement official. She denies doing so (just as she initially denied making the “space to destroy” comment), but the weak, defensive posture of the police during the looting, arson, and general chaos belies her denial.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also pointed the figure at Rawlings-Blake. He suggested that she waited too long to call for a state of emergency.

In 2012, Rawlings-Blake selected Anthony Batts to be the city’s chief of police. He was the darling of progressive police reformers, who were excited by his PhD in public administration and his “enlightened views” on policing. However, his record as Oakland police chief seemed less than stellar.

After charges were filed against six police officers in connection with Gray’s death, crime spiked in Baltimore. Rawlings-Blake blamed Batts and fired him.

Batts may well have deserved to be fired. But who hired him? And who issued the directives that encouraged rioting? It was Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Rawlings-Blake’s latest high profile move was the decision to pay $6.4 million to the family of Freddie Gray. She denied that the decision reflects an admission that any of the charged police officers engaged in misconduct. However, it will be extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for jurors in the criminal trials not to infer some level of guilt from the large, well-publicized settlement.

Moreover, many Baltimore police officers will surely view the settlement as more evidence that the mayor isn’t on their side. Gene Ryan, the city’s police union president, called the deal “obscene.”.

The likely effect will be the further demoralization of a department that already appears to be policing significantly less effectively than before Gray’s death. As Ryan put it, “just as Baltimore is returning to its pre-riot normalcy, this news threatens to interrupt any progress made toward restoring the relationship between the members of the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore City government.”

Is the settlement a good deal for the city? I don’t know, but I have my doubts.

As I understand it, Maryland caps liability in these cases at well below $1 million. Thus, the plaintiffs would have to bring their case in federal court as a constitutional violation, for which caps don’t apply.

If I recall correctly from my days litigating in Maryland (a long time ago, to be sure), the federal court jury would be drawn from a larger geographic area, and thus would likely be less pro-Gray family than a state court jury in Baltimore.

Moreover, there appears to be evidence that Gray injured himself while in police custody, perhaps in the hope of making some money through a settlement, and substantial evidence that, at a minimum, he caused his own injury in a way the police could not reasonably foresee.

How strong is this evidence? I don’t know. But I do know that the City of New York settled with Eric Garner’s family for less than the Gray settlement ($5.9 million). Garner’s handling by the police was captured on video, leaving little uncertainty about what the police did. This is not at all the case with Gray.

Jonathan Keller of the American Thinker views the settlement as a corrupt bargain with Billy Murphy, the effective leader of the plaintiff’s bar in Baltimore, “who stands (with other members of his team) to clip 30-40% of the settlement money for nothing more than a few hours of easy bargaining with the friendly mayor’s office.” The Baltimore plaintiffs’ bar, says Keller, “is totally in the pocket of the state’s Democrat politicians, who favor the ambulance-chasing lawyers by holding back limits on liability exposure and damage recovery in return for enormous campaign contributions.”

Keller may very well be right. It may well also be the case that the settlement, in part, is an attempt to pacify potential rioters. I wonder whether the rioters, as much as the mayor, are calling the shots

It’s even possible that by settling for such a large sum, Rawlings-Blake is hoping to enhance the prospect of convicting the officers charged in the Gray case, since convictions might also pacify potential rioters. But this final bit of speculation may be unfair.

In any case, Blake-Rawlings has plenty to answer for. By not running for re-election, she escapes having to answer directly to the people of Baltimore.