The city of Baltimore has been under intense scrutiny for the way in which city officials have handled victims of police brutality, including Freddie Gray.
According to an in depth piece by The Huffington Post, in hopes of avoiding the virality of similar incidents, the city is not only settling lawsuits, it’s including a “nondisparagement clause” designed to prevent the victim from further discussing the details of the case, particularly with the media.
While the clause isn’t out of the ordinary, it’s infrequently used in other states. The Wall Street Journal found that Baltimore used it in 95% of it’s police misconduct settlements. The study also found that the city has paid out over $12 million in police misconduct cases between 2010 and 2014.
Ashley Overbey is one example of how the city used the clause to it’s advantage. Following a home invasion, Overbey contacted the Baltimore police and found that they were “very rude and unprofessional”. She later filed a report and had additional officers come to her home who then beat her in the stairway of her apartment. After two years of litigations, the city settled her case for $63,000.
To Overbey’s surprise her name, photo and settlement amount was then printed on the front page of the Baltimore Sun Newspaper. “This all started because someone had broken into my home. It’s like my life was just finally starting to come back together and then they do that. I’m terrified that someone is gonna come kick my door in for money I don’t even have.”
The media attention led to blogs chastising Overbey and saying she lied about the incident for the money. By defending herself on a blog, she was in breach of the terms of the settlement and the city seized half of her payout.
Alexander Bush, a litigation attorney in Baltimore gave insight on why Overbey’s story is typical.
“The main purpose of these clauses is to aid the city’s public image” he said. “[The city] is settling cases that they don’t want people to hear about and it helps them that they tack on this clause so that the person who’s best able to really explain what happened now can’t talk to people about it.”
Ben Jealous, former president of the NAACP added, “The city does it to keep people who have beaten up by the police silent. It creates an environment where it’s easier for there to be more of these cases.”
He also said, “It protects officers who are prone to violence and ends up costing the city more money at the very least — not to mention a trail of victims across the city.”
Listen to Overbey relive her horrifying ordeal in the video above. And you can read the full report by the Huffington Post here.