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Policy change means Baltimore police officers can be personally liable for on-the-job incidents, lawsuits

Baltimore City Solicitor Andre M. Davis. Credit: mayor.baltimorecity.gov.

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The Baltimore Police Union is warning officers that they may be on the hook when it comes to paying out of pocket for damages incurred and sought through lawsuits, thanks to a new policy change.

BPD Union President Gene Ryan told union members on Tuesday that while members have generally have been able to count on the city to support officers in the past (in terms of punitive and civil suit compensatory damages, respectively), that may not always be the case, thanks to former federal judge and city Solicitor Andre Davis, who recently changed the policy.

“What this is means is that police officers are now required to pay these punitive damage awards, which can amount to thousands of dollars, out of their own pockets,” Ryan wrote to union members in an email. “Since punitive damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, the successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25 percent of your bi-weekly pay check until the amount of the punitive judgment is satisfied. Please keep this in mind as you go about performing your duties.”

Davis claims that the memo put out by the union is “flatly wrong in some respects and deeply misleading in other respects” and seems like a way to “dissuade officers from continuing to do their challenging jobs in good faith reliance on the City’s contractual and state law obligation to protect them from baseless lawsuits.”

However, recent instances have stirred up concerns, including a recent lawsuit against police officers, wherein a jury returned a verdict for $147,100 in assorted damages, as well as $40,000 in punitive damages, claiming the officers acted with “actual malice.”

Davis claims that no changes have been made in how the city is handling punitive damages, nor is he aware of any officers having their paychecks garnished to pay such damages.

The Socilitor added that his policy is “wholly consistent” with state appellate court interpretations of the Local Government Tort Claims Act, which “does not require local governments to pay punitive damages and prohibits local governments from entering into agreements to pay them in all cases.”

According to Davis, the statute “reflects the ordinary, common-sense notion that if government employees are told that no matter how badly they misbehave, no matter how maliciously they inflict harm or injuries on their fellow citizens, their employer will pay for that harm, then we can expect an increase in such harm. Employees, including police officers, who no doubt have the most difficult job in government, are not privileged to inflict gratuitous injury on others without personal consequences to themselves.”

According to the Baltimore Sun, the department has not commented on the matter.

This article is brought to you by First Responders Protection Agency.


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