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Baltimore County agrees to pay $1.1M to settle lawsuit alleging excessive police force in death of 2

Baltimore County has agreed to pay more than $1.1 million to settle a federal lawsuit brought by the family of a young Middle River man who died in 2016, days after an encounter with county police officers and emergency medical workers.

The $1,150,000 settlement with the family of 21-year-old Tawon Boyd is among the largest the county has reached in a lawsuit alleging excessive force by police. Boyd called 911 for help at his home on Akin Circle and ended up in a physical struggle with officers. He died three days later at a hospital. The state medical examiner later ruled his death accidental. The lawsuit alleged that officers used excessive force against Boyd — and that county emergency medical personnel erred in injecting Boyd with the anti-psychotic medication Haldol, claiming the drug contributed to Boyd’s death.

A federal judge signed a settlement order dismissing the case June 26, court records show. The Baltimore Sun obtained details of the settlement last week after requesting the information from the county law office. Boyd’s mother and the mother of his child filed the lawsuit in 2017. Their attorney, A. Dwight Pettit, said he could not comment in detail because they signed a nondisclosure agreement with the county. However, he said they were pleased they were able to reach a settlement. “My clients felt it was in their interest because of the possible conservative jury" in federal court, which pools jurors from around the state, Pettit said.

In addition to the county, the lawsuit named as defendants former Police Chief Jim Johnson, who left the county in 2017. Other defendants were police officers Michael Bowman, Darryl Garland, Pearin Holt, Bryn Blackburn and Joseph Seckens; paramedic Tyler Armstrong and EMT Kenneth Burns. Officials said all remain employed by the county except Blackburn, who has retired, according to court filings.

County Attorney Mike Field, whose office represented those named in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the settlement. Police and fire officials also had no comment. A spokesman for County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, said only that the matter had been “resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” the language used in the agreement.

According to the lawsuit, Boyd called 911 on Sept. 18, 2016, about 3 a.m. for help “with what he believed to be an intruder in his home.” A responding officer found him sweating heavily and appearing “confused and paranoid.” The lawsuit states that Boyd ran away and tried to get into a locked police vehicle, then ran to a neighbor’s house screaming for help and asking someone to call police. Officers decided he was on drugs or suffering from a medical emergency and that he needed to be taken to the hospital for an emergency evaluation.

Boyd’s family also contended that Boyd should not have been given Haldol. State protocols for emergency medical personnel prohibit the administration of that medication for patients believed to be suffering from “excited delirium,” as Boyd was, according to the lawsuit.

In court filings, county lawyers said the officers used reasonable force and that their actions did not cause Boyd’s death. The county also said they had probable cause to detain Boyd for an emergency evaluation.

In addition, the county’s attorneys said in the court documents that Burns’ only contact with Boyd was helping to put him in a stretcher. They said Armstrong, who administered the Haldol, was cleared of wrongdoing after a review by the Quality Assurance Medical Review Board, an internal county review panel. The attorneys also argued that none of the medical experts involved in the case concluded that Haldol caused Boyd’s death.

The state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner found that Boyd’s death was likely caused by intoxication with the drug N-Ethylpentylone, also known as “bath salts.” The medical examiner concluded that it was unlikely that restraint by police officers caused or significantly contributed to his death.

The settlement is among the largest the county has paid. In 2016, the county reached a $1.5 million settlement with the mother of Christopher Brown, a 17-year-old boy who died after an off-duty county police officer chased him in Randallstown and allegedly put him in a chokehold.

Three years before that, the county reached a $1 million settlement with Odatei Mills, who was shot by police in 2009. After a trial in Circuit Court last year, a county jury awarded $38 million to the family of Korryn Gaines, a 23-year-old Randallstown woman shot and killed by county police in 2016. But in February, Judge Mickey J. Norman overturned the verdict. Attorneys for Gaines’ family have appealed.

It’s not unusual for the county to include a requirement in settlements that limits discussion of the case, but such agreements have been called into question in a federal case involving a Baltimore City settlement.

Last month, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that nondisparagement agreements used by the city in police misconduct settlements are unconstitutional because they undermine the right to free speech.

The county agreement — in which the parties agree to keep the terms “strictly confidential” — was signed before that decision. Its language is similar to previous settlements involving claims against the county, stating that the agreement is not an admission of “any liability, fault or impropriety.”

Field said the county’s law office would review the use of nondisclosure agreements in light of the federal appeals court decision. 

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