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Springfield City Council approves $5 million fund to settle police misconduct cases

Paul Tuthill
Negotiations between the city and the U.S. Dept of Justice over reforms at the Springfield Police Department are continuing.

City lawyer says settlements will mean a clean slate as police reforms are made

City Councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts have made $5 million available to settle a backlog of police misconduct cases.

The city’s Law Department hopes to use the pool of money to persuade people with pending lawsuits to settle before going to trial where the city might be exposed to even greater liability given a recent history of big money awards by juries in cases against cops.

“This fact required the city to become more aggressive in pursuing settlements to prevent exposure and in the defense of cases where called for,” City Solicitor Ed Pikula told Councilors.

“Whether we’re settling or defending, the cost will be significant,” he said.

Pikula told Councilors the hope is to settle pending cases and move forward with a “clean slate.”

“This transfer will show the city is serious about putting the past history behind us, implementing reforms, standing behind the police when there is a meritorious defense, and paying compensation to resolve claims where a settlement is the most economical means of resolution,” stated Pikula.

The city remains in negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice to implement a series of reforms at the Springfield Police Department. Pikula said the changes being discussed to training, supervision, and accountability in the police department should reduce the likelihood of future lawsuits over police misconduct.

City officials have been in negotiations with the DOJ since the federal authorities released a scathing report in June 2020 that blasted the Springfield Police Department’s former narcotics division for routinely using excessive force.

Pikula has been saying since last August that an agreement between the city and the DOJ is “weeks, not months away.”

The request to transfer $5 million to the Law Department was approved on a 10-1 vote. The money will come from the city’s $40 million cash reserves.

The lone “no” vote came from City Councilor Justin Hurst, who said he objected to approving a “blank check” to the city’s lawyers.

“I just think we need to be stewards of taxpayer money and all the money that is being disbursed today is an awful lot,” Hurst said.

Noting that the city has paid out $10 million in the last 8 years for police misconduct, City Councilor Trayce Whitfield questioned if $5 million will be enough to settle the pending cases.

“We were told last time we approved some funding it was going to be a clean slate and we are looking at several cases still pending for police misconduct,” said Whitfield.

Saying he would vote reluctantly to approve the transfer of funds, Councilor Orlando Ramos, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, said it should come with an acknowledgment of systemic problems with the Springfield Police Department.

“The taxpayers of our city were lied to for a very long time because each time there was a new case of police misconduct they were told there was absolutely nothing wrong with the police department and yet here we are approving another $5 million to settle police misconduct cases,” Ramos said.

The Law Department will make monthly reports to the City Council on how the $5 million is spent.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.