That and five other cases set to go before the Baltimore City Board of Estimates on Wednesday, according to a law department memo, bring the amount of taxpayer money spent on settling Gun Trace Task Force claims to more than $13 million, following the settlement of 18 previous cases in recent weeks.
“We believe these settlements to be in the best interest of both the city and the plaintiffs who may have been harmed by the misconduct of former GTTF members,” says a memo from the law department.
Steve Silverman, an attorney for Burley and Matthews, said it “took several unfavorable court rulings against the City of Baltimore to bend its arm,” but they were “pleased that the city has finally stepped up and negotiated a historic and impactful resolution of this litigation.”
“Mr. Burley and Mr. Matthews were overtly and undeniably framed by a conspiracy of at least four police officers,” Silverman said. “It should not take an army of lawyers litigating for years to right wrongs like this.”
Among the additional payouts is $1 million to a man who was shot by one of the Gun Trace Task Force officers in 2007 and $850,000 to a man who was shot by other officers in 2016.
Both plaintiffs served prison time.
Acting city solicitor Dana Moore said the city would litigate remaining claims. It was not clear how many cases remain pending.
Burley and Matthews’s lawsuit, like others filed in the Gun Trace Task Force fallout, alleged not just that the officers wrongfully arrested the men, but that the city knew of misconduct by the officers and others and failed to stop it. Officers who cooperated with the government in the federal prosecution said they stole money and falsified evidence for years, with little fear of getting caught. A suburban drug investigation — not an internal affairs complaint — ultimately brought them down.
More than a dozen officers have been charged and convicted, and hundreds of criminal cases brought by the officers have been dropped or vacated.
Burley served seven years in prison after the 2010 drug-planting incident. Gun Trace Task Force leader Sgt. Wayne Jenkins pleaded guilty to civil rights violations related to the case, for participating in the coverup, though he insists he did not plant the drugs.
Jenkins and Detectives Sean Suiter and Ryan Guinn were watching Burley and Matthews and said at the time that they believed they saw the two men conducting a drug transaction. The officers, in unmarked vehicles and wearing plainclothes, moved in, and Burley quickly took off.
He collided with another vehicle, killing 86-year-old Elbert Davis and injuring his 81-year-old wife.
Jenkins’s report said that Suiter found heroin inside Burley’s vehicle. After the Gun Trace Task Force indictment, cooperating officers told federal investigators that Jenkins had spoken of drugs being planted in the incident.
Suiter was fatally shot in the head the day before he was to testify in front of a grand jury about the incident — his death has been ruled a homicide, but questions have been raised about whether he died by suicide. Guinn testified before the grand jury, providing his account of the incident, and was not charged with wrongdoing. Jenkins is serving 25 years after pleading guilty to an array of crimes including robberies, falsifying evidence, reselling drugs that he took from people and stealing overtime.
Burley was convicted on federal drug charges but also state manslaughter charges. Matthews served 2½ years in federal prison on drug charges. Their convictions were vacated in 2017.
Silverman, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said Burley was released from prison “with only the shirt on his back.”
“No housing, no job, no services, nothing to assimilate back into the community after years of wrongful incarceration,” Silverman said.
The $8 million settlement includes the city taking over a civil judgment that Burley owed the family of Davis, who died in the crash. Burley was ordered to pay $1 million, which has accumulated interest since Burley was unable to pay the amount.
“BPD has agreed to assume the judgment held by the Judgment Plaintiffs against Burley for full face amount of the Judgment plus post-judgment interest,” the agreement reads.
The Davis family has filed their own lawsuit against the city, which was not among the settlements set to go before the Board of Estimates.
— Baltimore Sun