Killings by police trigger costly settlements

Demonstrators block Public Square in a 2014 protest in Cleveland over the police shooting of Tamir Rice. The city of Cleveland reached a financial settlement in the case on Monday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Another month. Another city.

Another multimillion-dollar settlement paid to the bereaved family of an unarmed person killed by police.

This week, the city of Cleveland paid $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot to death by a police officer in November 2014. As is often the case with such a payout, which settles a federal lawsuit filed by the family, the city acknowledges no fault.

This, despite the fact that Rice, who was playing with a toy gun, was shot within seconds of police arriving on the scene, and that the officer who gunned him down had been deemed “emotionally unstable” for duty in his previous job with another Ohio police department.

Surprising no one, a grand jury declined to indict that officer, Timothy Loehmann. With the settlement, city officials now get to shrug off the needless killing of a 12-year-old as a tragedy, and nothing more.

In recent years, numerous high-profile police killings have yielded high-profile settlements. Just last month, the family of Danroy “D.J.” Henry, a college student from Easton, Mass., received $6 million, more than five years after a Pleasantville, N.Y., police officer killed him. All these cases seem to follow a numbing pattern of questionable police tactics, public protests, and huge payouts:

Rekia Boyd, shot in the head by a Chicago detective in 2012, $4.5 million; Jonathan Ferrell, shot 10 times by a Charlotte, N.C., officer in 2013, $2.25 million; Eric Garner, choked to death by a New York City police officer in 2014, $5.9 million; Laquan McDonald, shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in 2014, $5 million; Walter Scott, fatally shot several times in the back by a North Charleston, S.C., officer in 2015, $6.5 million; Freddie Gray, mortally injured while in Baltimore police custody in 2015, $6.4 million; Samuel DuBose, killed by a University of Cincinnati officer in 2015, $4.85 million; Zachary Hammond, shot to death in Seneca, S.C., in 2015, $2.1 million.

Those numbers hardly tell the much larger story.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, its city over the past decade has paid $500 million in settlements. New York doled out a stunning $216.9 million in 2014 to settle claims against its police department.

None of these settlements are about justice or restitution; they’re about making damaging lawsuits go away. Even when officers are indicted, their actions are treated as aberrations, not evidence of deeper systemic or departmental failures.

These are our hard-earned dollars at work. Taxpayers foot the bill for those cops who refuse to be accountable to the citizens they are sworn to serve and protect. Departments admit no wrongdoing, smearing, by association, officers who do their jobs with respect toward people as well as procedure. Then they use our money to make misdeeds disappear. Cities wear down grief-fatigued families without the emotional stamina for drawn-out court cases, nor for the myriad ways their dead relatives would be dragged and blamed for their own deaths.

Perhaps emboldened by all the questions left unanswered about the catastrophic decisions that led to Rice’s death, Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, added cruel insult to fatal injury.

In a statement this week, he suggested that the Rice family use “a portion of this settlement to help educate the youth of Cleveland in the dangers associated with the mishandling of both real and facsimile firearms. Something positive must come from this tragic loss.”

Nowhere did Loomis suggest what the officers he represents could do differently to prevent another such tragedy.

Nearly as shocking as the unwarranted death of a child is the fact that too many towns and cities nationwide would rather spend our tax dollars on big money payouts than in better training their police officers to operate in a manner that doesn’t end with more unarmed citizens dead.

Renee Graham is a columnist for The Boston Globe.