Judge Upholds Gag Order in Baltimore Police Settlement

BALTIMORE (CN) — A federal judge upheld a nondisclosure agreement Thursday that was part of a Baltimore police-brutality settlement, so Ashley Overbey will not be able to share the story of her 2012 assault and Tasering by three officers with an online news site.

U.S. District Judge Marvin Gardis granted summary judgment and dismissed the case.

The ACLU, co-counsel for Overbey, said it would appeal.

“The gag provision challenged in this lawsuit is part of a broader and by now well-documented pattern by the city of Baltimore of trying to close down avenues for the public to learn about abuses of the city’s residents by the Baltimore Police Department,” said ACLU attorney Deborah Jeon. “This strikes us as a blatant snubbing of our clients’ First Amendment rights, and we are optimistic that the Fourth Circuit will agree with us.”

Overbey’s story began in April 2012 when she contacted police to report a burglary at her home. She said police responded by assaulting her and Tasering her twice. She suffered a black eye and other bruises.

Overbey sued the city and its police department, which settled two years later for $63,000.

As with 95 percent of cases the city settles, the settlement contained a non-disparagement clause, which stated that if Overbey violated it she would have to repay half of the money to the city.

Before Overbey received her settlement, the Baltimore Sun published an article on the lawsuit, including her mug shot photo and the settlement amount.

Overbey became upset after reading the Sun story and reader comments and responded to them.

The city claimed her comments violated the agreement’s limitation on public statements and withheld payment of one-half of the $63,000, sending Overbey a check for $31,500.

Overbey and the Baltimore Brew, an online news outlet, sued Baltimore in June this year, alleging a First Amendment violation and breach of agreement.

In it motion to dismiss, the city said Baltimore Brew does not have standing to bring a lawsuit that would invalidate the nondisclosure clause, because it has no right to information to a settlement to which it is not a party.

The news site said it has reported on BPD lawsuits and settlements involving allegations of police brutality since the summer of 2011 and that to report these stories it relies on public documents. It but argued that these documents are one-sided and incomplete without the plaintiffs’ versions of the facts.

Gardis disagreed. He accepted the city’s argument that the press’s First Amendment right does not override a contract to which it was not a party.

The Baltimore Brew did not respond to a request for comment.

The Baltimore Police Department is under a consent decree with the Department of Justice mandating sweeping police reforms. The oversight resulted from of an investigation that found widespread unconstitutional and discriminatory policing, particularly in poor, predominantly black neighborhoods.

According to Overbey’s amended complaint, the City of Baltimore paid more than $33.4 million in police brutality cases from 2009 to 2017. About 95 percent of these settlements contain a non-disparagement clause.

Included in the $33 million is the more than $6 million paid to the family of Freddie Gray, who died from a spinal cord injury he suffered while being transported. His death ignited a day of rioting in April 2015.

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