By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
It’s been nearly a year since Baltimore resident Ivan Potts was freed from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, and for him, nothing has changed.
“it’s really been a struggle,” Potts told the AFRO.
His was one of the first cases Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby moved to dismiss after indictments were announced against members of the Gun Trace Task Force who arrested him in 2015.
Three members from the group of eight officers convicted of robbing residents, dealing drugs and stealing overtime; Wayne Jenkins, Evodio Hendrix, and Marcus Taylor planted a gun on Potts in 2015. Their testimony was a critical component to the imposition of an eight-year sentence that Potts was facing after a jury found him guilty.
But, since his release Potts has been left in limbo. The city has refused to compensate him for his time in prison, arguing that dozens of victims who suffered at the hands of the disgraced GTTF members are not due compensation from the city who employed them.
“For Baltimore officials to say they’re not responsible, they’re basically going against everything America stands for,” Potts said.
“When you get convicted of a crime, you get found guilty, you receive your time, you go to prison,” Potts said. “So, what happens when government officials are wrong?”
Lawyers representing plaintiffs in cases filed by victims of the GTTF said the city legal department has embraced a position that the officers were acting outside the scope of their employment when they made illegal arrests and committed acts of brutality.
It’s an argument they say belies the fact that the city not only rewarded the officers for making gun arrests with days off and extra overtime but, touted their work as progress in the fight against violence.
“The first step in fixing any problem is accepting responsibility,” said attorney Paul Zukerberg who represents Potts. “Until BPD accepts that it is responsible for the conduct of its officers, the police department’s problems are likely to continue.”
To bolster the legal argument the city is not culpable, its legal staff has introduced motions arguing the city’s normal role of indemnifying officers does not apply to GTTF cases. It’s a legal position the city’s top lawyer City Solicitor Andre Davis said is justified.
“In all instances, the City contends they were co-conspirators seeking to enrich themselves and each other,” Davis told the AFRO. “They were not doing the work they were trained to do as police officers.”
But while the predominantly African-American victims go uncompensated, high profile law firms are cleaning up as the city battles plaintiffs who were victims of not just the GTTF, but other incidents of police brutality
A public information act request filed by the AFRO revealed the city has shelled out $6.7 million dollars in legal fees to outside firms from 2016 to 2018 defending the police department in a variety of litigation. The fees were paid to defend the city against lawsuits arising from police misconduct officials said.
The spending does not include settlements paid to victims between 2010 and 2016 which totaled $12 million.
Veteran defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit said spending on outside legal counsel is the result of scorched earth legal strategy deployed by the city to discourage litigants.
“Even when the facts are not in dispute, and we approach the city for settlement, the city files another appeal on a technical issue,” Pettit said of several cases he is currently litigating.
It’s a notion Davis disputes, noting the city is simply defending itself to the extent the law allows.
“The purpose of an appeal is to resolve disputes over the law,” said Davis
But Pettit points to several cases that have been languishing for years despite the fact his plaintiff prevailed in court and was awarded a settlement.
Among them, the case of Michael Johnson, Jr., who was picked up by police in Baltimore City by three officers and left him in Howard County without shoes.
The then 15-year old’s family sued the city and won a settlement. But the city has fought the award, again arguing the officers were acting outside the scope of their employment.
It’s an argument that Potts’ finds hard to stomach.
His false conviction disrupted his career and forced him into a protracted custody dispute with his toddler daughter’s mother.
But what makes him even more angry, is that the criminal behavior that put him behind bars hasn’t even warranted the simplest recognition of regret – an apology.
“Who’s accountable, who’s going to be held accountable for this?” Potts said. “It’s like they’re just ducking their responsibility.”