Baltimore must pay alleged police victim full settlement

BALTIMORE (AP) — The city of Baltimore must stop withholding tens of thousands of dollars from an alleged victim of police misconduct, despite the city’s accusation that the Black woman violated a non-disparagement clause that was part of a 2014 settlement, a federal judge ruled Monday.

The judge wrote that the city must pay Ashley Overbey Underwood the remaining $31,500 due to as part of her settlement, plus interest.

The order comes after a federal appeals court ruled in July 2019 that Baltimore’s practice of reducing financial settlements to alleged victims of police misconduct when they speak about their experience is unconstitutional, likening the practice to “hush money.” The ACLU of Maryland had sued on behalf of Underwood in that case.

Underwood had negotiated a $63,000 settlement with the city after suing three police officers who she said beat her and shot her with a stun gun when she reported a burglary in her home. But she only got half the money because the city said she violated the settlement’s non-disparagement clause when she responded to online comments in an article about her case.

Baltimore has paid millions of dollars in such settlements. Critics have argued the non-disparagement clauses help cover up police misconduct and make it more difficult to accurately assess police actions.

Following the 2-1 ruling from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young in 2019 signed an executive order that bars the city in some instances from prohibiting alleged victims of police brutality from disparaging police after they receive cash settlements. The order applies retroactively.