ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
The city of Baltimore has reached a settlement with the family of Freddie Gray - $6.4 million over two years. Gray is the black man who was fatally injured after his arrest and ride in a police van last spring. The city's spending board is expected to approve the payout tomorrow. Under the deal, the city admits no guilt, but some think it might affect the criminal trials of the six police officers who were charged in Gray's death. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Baltimore defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit has brought a long string of wrongful death suits against the city's police officers.
A. DWIGHT PETTIT: The civil settlement, at this junction, without having to go through the process of litigation is a very, very positive thing.
LUDDEN: In large part, he says, because it's so big. Baltimore has long capped such settlements to between $200,000 and $400,000 with few exceptions. The Freddie Gray settlement is larger than 120 other payouts for alleged police misconduct since 2011 combined. Pettit things that's because of all the national attention to this case and because of the nearly-as-large settlement between New York City and the family of Eric Garner, another unarmed black man fatally injured while being arrested. Pettit hopes this signals change for Baltimore.
PETTIT: What this does - sets a precedent that the city's going to do the right thing - then I'm sure they will move very quickly to do more than they have done in the past to, in fact, resolve the police brutality issue.
LUDDEN: The amount is not the only unusual part of the settlement.
STEPHEN LEVIN: Frankly, I am surprised that the city would settle so quickly.
LUDDEN: Stephen Levin is a former federal prosecutor, now a Baltimore defense attorney who's represented police officers, among others. He says not only does this settlement come before the criminal trials of the six police officers charged in Gray's death. It's also two days before a hearing on whether to move those trials outside Baltimore.
LEVIN: This settlement may lead to the conclusion by prospective jurors that the officers did something wrong, which would further poison the jury pool.
LUDDEN: Not all legal experts agree, and the bar for a civil case is lower than for a criminal conviction. But Levin is sure the police officers' attorneys will sight the settlement when the argue for a new venue. In a statement, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says the city settled to avoid protracted litigation that would make it more difficult for the city to heal and could have cost taxpayers even more. Levin sees another plausible reason - concern that if the trial is moved outside Baltimore, that would spark protests and riots like those last spring.
LEVIN: It may very well be that the city has decided to settle with the family sooner rather than later to quell those protests.
LUDDEN: Defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit says if any potential jurors are biased by the settlement, lawyers can weed them out when they pick a jury. The city's residents, he says, have the right to try a case that happened in their midst.
PETTIT: Anyplace else other than Prince George's County, which is demographically similar to Baltimore than anyplace else, in my opinion, the case is lost by the state because the other counties would be too conservative.
LUDDEN: The attorney for Freddie Gray's family plans to hold a news conference on the settlement tomorrow. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.