The Maryland ACLU is representing TRNN in a suit to stop police from forcing victims of police brutality to remain silent as part of legal settlements by Taya Graham and Stephen Janis
Taya Graham: This is Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland. The ACLU and the Real news have joined together to demand transparency and accountability in policing. As the Real News continues to report on the efforts of civilians to take control of policing from Baltimore to the eastern shore, a common obstacle has emerged, secrecy. Ashley Overbey: Unless the people can know what’s going on and what these cops and the government and city officials are actually doing to us, no change can come about. Taya Graham: From settlements over brutality to the firing of Pocomoke’s first black police chief, the Real News has battled resistance from a variety of agencies over a release of information critical to the public’s right to know. Which is why today we joined forces with the ACLU and victims of police brutality to force transparency into a process that gets little attention, but has a huge impact on how communities are policed. Susan Goering: The ACLU this morning filed two lawsuits; one against the city of Baltimore and it’s police department and the other against the city of Salisbury and it’s police department. This is a coordinated effort to take on gag orders, which has silenced numerous victims, maybe more than we know … numerous victims of police abuse that comes when there’s a condition written into a settlement agreement to resolve the case. Basically that plaintiff, that person who settled the case, but was victimized by the police can no longer speaker about it. Taya Graham: The suit focuses on the practice of requiring plaintiffs in brutality lawsuits to remain silent as part of the terms of settlement. Case-in-point is the ordeal of Baltimore resident, Ashley Overbey. Ashley Overbey: My life was changed forever as I was brutalized by Baltimore City police. I called them for help as I had come home and found my home had been burglarized and instead of them helping me, they brutalized me. They beat me up. It was three male officers who beat, punched, kicked- Taya Graham: In 2014, she called police to report a burglary at her North Baltimore home. Police arrived, but beat her and charged her with theft, leaving her with a criminal record. Ashley Overbee: So for two years I walked around labeled a criminal because I was informed that in order to seek justice for myself for what was done to me, I could not expunge those charges off of my record. Taya Graham: Overbey sued, and the city agreed to pay her a $60,000 settlement, but after the deal was signed, things got even worse. That’s because a Baltimore City attorney made public comments about her case. When she responded in an online forum, the city withheld half her settlement. Ashley Overbee: And I was hurt because of the comments that were made by city officials and the police department insinuating that I had somehow caused this or brought it on myself. Yet, I can’t defend myself against regular, everyday people who are making comments based on comments from the city officials and the lies that they told about me. Taya Graham: The ACLU and the Real News are also seeking the release of a police brutality settlement filed by four university Salisbury students. The students sued after they were arrested without cause and injured during an arrest in 2014. Salisbury police settled the lawsuit, but again required the plaintiffs to remain silent. “It’s a critical case,” says Real News reporter Stephen Janis. “A move to give the community access to the information it needs to hold police accountable.” Stephen Janis : A fundamental principle here is that the city is spending money on behalf of these officers for their behavior, and that is a public trust. If you spend public money you should be accountable for what you’ve done. The only way to hold them accountable is to know what they did. I don’t think there’s any justification for restricting people’s first amendment rights because you pay them some money. Taya Graham: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore City, Maryland.