United States District Court, D. Maryland
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
K. Bredar United States District Judge.
January 12, 2017, the United States of America filed a
complaint against the Baltimore Police Department
(“BPD”) and the Mayor and City Council of
Baltimore City (“the City”). (ECF No. 1.) The
United States alleged Defendants had engaged in a pattern or
practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives
persons of rights, privileges, and immunities secured and
protected by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
The complaint was brought pursuant to the Violent Crime
Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, 42 U.S.C. §
14141; Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000d; the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act
of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3789d; and Title II of the
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C.
January 12, 2017, the parties jointly filed a motion seeking
entry of a consent decree to resolve litigation of the
instant case (ECF No. 2); attached to the motion was a
227-page proposed consent decree (ECF No. 2-2). Movants seek
the consent decree to ensure that their agreed-upon measures
to reform BPD are fully and faithfully implemented. (Mot.
Supp. Mem. 1, ECF No. 2-1.) Defendants do not admit to any
wrongdoing. (Id. 2.)
considering Movants' request for entry of the decree, the
Court turns first to the primary statute under which the
United States is proceeding, 42 U.S.C. § 14141, which
makes it “unlawful for any governmental authority, or
any agent thereof, or any person acting on behalf of a
governmental authority, to engage in a pattern or practice of
conduct by law enforcement officers . . . that deprives
persons of rights, privileges, or immunities secured or
protected by the Constitution or laws of the United
States.” § 14141(a). Further, the statute
authorizes the Attorney General to bring a civil action to
“obtain appropriate equitable and declaratory relief to
eliminate the pattern or practice.” § 14141(b).
motion now before the Court reflects Movants' shared
belief that the proposed consent decree grants such
“appropriate equitable and declaratory relief.”
They “intend through this settlement to ensure that
police services are delivered to the people of Baltimore in a
manner that complies with the Constitution and laws of the
United States, promotes public and officer safety, and
improves public confidence in law enforcement.” (Mot.
Supp. Mem. 3.)
United States v. North Carolina, 180 F.3d 574 (4th
Cir. 1999), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth
Circuit endorsed “the general principle that
settlements are encouraged.” Id. at 581. Even
so, a district court should not blindly accept a proposed
settlement's terms. Id. “Rather, before
entering a consent decree the court must satisfy itself that
the agreement 'is fair, adequate, and reasonable' and
'is not illegal, a product of collusion, or against the
public interest.'” Id. (quoting United
States v. Colorado, 937 F.2d 505, 509 (10th Cir. 1991)).
In deciding whether a proposed settlement is fair and
adequate, a district court is required to assess the strength
of the plaintiff's case. Id. In making this
assessment, a court need not conduct “'a trial or a
rehearsal of the trial, '” but it must still
“take the necessary steps to ensure that it is able to
reach 'an informed, just and reasoned
decision.'” Id. (quoting Flinn v. FMC
Corp., 528 F.2d 1169, 1172-73 (4th Cir. 1975)). Factors
bearing upon this determination include the extent of
discovery that has occurred, the stage of the proceedings,
the absence of collusion in the settlement, and the
experience of counsel who negotiated the settlement on behalf
of the plaintiffs. Id.
Court has carefully studied Movants' submissions,
including the full content of the proposed decree.
Additionally, the Court conducted a preliminary hearing on
February 1, 2017, in which the parties responded to the
undersigned's inquiries. The Court has reviewed the
deeply troubling report prepared by the Department of Justice
and referred to in the memorandum in support of the joint
motion asking that the proposed decree be entered. (ECF No.
2-1, pp. 5-6.) Also, the Court has received public comment in
both written form (ECF Nos. 19 & 21) and in oral
statements made at a public fairness hearing on April 6,
2017. No evidence has been presented to the Court, and no
discovery has occurred as part of the instant litigation. Nor
have Defendants admitted wrongdoing or liability. However,
the strength of Plaintiffs case can be inferred from
Defendants' evident cooperation in Plaintiffs
investigation of Baltimore police practices and their ready
embrace of a negotiated resolution of this case based upon
that investigation, a resolution that is highly intrusive on
the day-to-day operations of the BPD and that requires
Defendants' commitment to spend millions of dollars.
Furthermore, Movants represent to the Court that they have
been well represented by experienced and knowledgeable
counsel in this case and during their negotiations leading up
to the filing of the proposed decree. (Mot. Supp. Mem. 5.)
The Court is familiar with many of the attorneys representing
the parties and cannot disagree. The lawyers appearing for
the Government have been uniformly excellent. And, that such
top-flight lawyers have negotiated and willingly endorsed
this agreement on the defense side in particular is further
evidence that the United States has a strong case. Those
expert attorneys on the defense side would not have agreed to
the proposed terms if they were not convinced of a real and
powerful probability that the Police Department and the City
would be found liable.
undersigned has no handy yardstick to measure adequacy and
claims no special expertise in that regard. And whether the
proposed decree succeeds in all its goals will be known only
in hindsight. But the Court reasonably relies upon the
expertise underlying the proposed decree and judges the
decree adequate to accomplish the reforms sought by Movants.
It is comprehensive, detailed, and precise. It appears to be
balanced and well-calibrated to achieve the parties'
shared, jointly-stated objectives. After close review of the
proposed decree, and in light of all other submissions on the
docket and in open Court, the Court concludes the decree is
fair, adequate, and reasonable. Moreover, nothing before the
Court remotely suggests that the settlement is illegal or the
product of collusion. Finally, taking into account the
submissions of the parties but also the written and oral
statements of those members of the public who chose to
address the Court, and reflecting on the certainty that there
must be effective and constitutional policing in order for
the City of Baltimore to thrive, the Court determines the
proposed decree is in the public interest.
after the agreement settling this case was negotiated and
signed by the parties, and just before the long-scheduled
hearing to take the views of the public, the Government
advised the Court in a motion seeking continuance of that
hearing (ECF No. 23) that it requested additional time to
“assess whether and how the provisions of the proposed
consent decree interact with [certain post-agreement]
directives of the President and the Attorney General.”
(ECF No. 23, p. 4.) However, none of the statements contained
in the motion, or in the documents it references, help to
address the questions now before the Court, i.e.,
whether the parties' proposed decree is fair, adequate,
reasonable, legal, non-collusive, and in the public interest.
United States v. North Carolina, 180 F.3d at 581.
The Government's recent motion can best be interpreted as
a request for an additional opportunity to consider whether
it wants the Court to enter the decree at all, or at least
the current version of it. During the public hearing on April
6 the Government explicitly asked for more time to consider
the proposed decree. But this is problematic. The parties
have already agreed to the draft before the Court. It would
be extraordinary for the Court to permit one side to
unilaterally amend an agreement already jointly reached and
signed. Moreover, early in the Court's review of the
joint motion, but after the new administration was in office
in Washington, the Government affirmed its commitment to this
draft and urged the Court to sign it. (Tr. of Hrg. 7:10-24,
ECF No. 20.) The Defendants, for their part, continue to urge
entry of the proposed decree, consistent with the earlier
joint submission. (Statement of Acting City Solicitor David
Ralph in open Court, Hrg. on April 6, 2017, transcript not
between the parties, this case is settled. All that remains
is for the Court to make its determinations under United
States v. North Carolina, and it has done so
above. The case is no longer in a phase where
any party is unilaterally entitled to reconsider the
terms of the settlement; the parties are bound to each other
by their prior agreement. The time for negotiating the
agreement is over. The only question now is whether the
Court needs more time to consider the proposed decree.
It does not. Last of all, the full record in this case, and
especially the public statements made in writing and during
the recent hearing make clear that time is of the essence.
The problems that necessitate this consent decree are urgent.
The parties have agreed on a detailed and reasonable approach
to solving them. Now, it is time to enter the decree and
thereby require all involved to get to work on repairing the
many fractures so poignantly revealed by the record.
reviewing the details of the proposed decree, the Court
requested Movants to define the term “permanent rank
supervisor”; they responded by proposing the following
definition to be incorporated ...