About 8:30 one Thursday evening in Detroit, Tony Murray was getting ready for bed. As he turned off the final light in the living room, he glanced out of his window and saw a half-dozen uniformed police officers with ɡᴜпѕ drawn approach his home.As the officers banged on the door, Murray ordered Keno, his black Labrador retriever, to the basement. As Murray let the officers in, one quickly pushed him to the floor and at least two others ran to the cellar, he said. “Don’t ᴋɪʟʟ my dog. He won’t bite you,” Murray pleaded. The sound of ɡᴜпѕһᴏтѕ filled the house. Keno’s barking, the 56-year-old recalled, morphed into the sound of “a girl screaming.”
Officers searched Murray’s home for nearly an hour, flipping his sofa and emptying drawers. Outside, Murray approached the officers standing by their vehicles. One handed him a copy of the search warrant, which stated they were looking for illegal Ԁгᴜɡѕ. Murray noticed something else: The address listed wasn’t his. It was his neighbor’s.
Months after the 2014 raid, Murray, who was not charged with any crimes, sued Detroit police for gross negligence and civil rights violations, naming Officer Lynn Christopher Moore, who filled out the search warrant, and the other five officers who raided his home. The city eventually paid Murray $87,500 to settle his claim, but admitted no error by police.
That settlement was not the first or last time that Detroit would resolve allegations against Moore with a check: Between 2010 and 2020, the city settled 10 claims involving Moore’s police work, paying more than $665,000 to individuals who alleged the officer used excessive force, made an illegal arrest or wrongfully searched a home.
Moore is among the more than 7,600 officers — from Portland, Ore., to Milwaukee to Baltimore — whose alleged misconduct has more than once led to payouts to resolve lawsuits and claims of wrongdoing, according to a Washington Post investigation. The Post collected data on nearly 40,000 payments at 25 of the nation’s largest police and sheriff’s departments within the past decade, documenting more than $3.2 billion spent to settle claims.
The investigation for the first time identifies the officers behind the payments. Data were assembled from public records filed with the financial and police departments in each city or county and excluded payments less than $1,000. Court records were gathered for the claims that led to federal or local lawsuits. The total amounts further confirm the broad costs associated with police misconduct, as reported last year by FiveThirtyEight and the Marshall Project.
The Post found that more than 1,200 officers in the departments surveyed had been the subject of at least five payments. More than 200 had 10 or more.
The repetition is the hidden cost of alleged misconduct: Officers whose conduct was at issue in more than one payment accounted for more than $1.5 billion, or nearly half of the money spent by the departments to resolve allegations, The Post found. In some cities, officers repeatedly named in misconduct claims accounted for an even larger share. For example, in Chicago, officers who were subject to more than one paid claim accounted for more than $380 million of the nearly $528 million in payments.The Post analysis found that the typical payout for cases involving officers with multiple claims — ranging from illegal search and seizure to use of excessive force — was $10,000 higher than those involving other officers.
In Philadelphia, six officers in a narcotics unit generated 173 lawsuits, costing a total of $6.5 million. In 2014, those officers were federally charged with theft, wrongful arrest and other crimes but eventually acquitted at trial. Some 50 additional lawsuits are pending, many alleging misconduct dating back more than a decade, said Andrew Richman, a spokesman for the city’s legal department.
Despite the repetition and cost, few cities or counties track claims by the names of the officers involved — meaning that officials may be unaware of officers whose alleged misconduct is repeatedly costing taxpayers. In 2020, the 25 departments employed 103,000 officers combined, records show.
“Transparency is what needs to be in place,” said Frank Straub, director of the National Police Foundation’s Center for Mass Violence Response Studies, adding that his organization has called for departments nationwide to publicize cases with settlements. “When you have officers who have repeated allegations . . . it calls for extremely close examination of both the individual cases and the totality of the cases to figure out what’s driving this behavior and these reactions and to see if there is a pattern in an officer’s behavior that triggers these cases.”
Defenders of police have a different view.
City officials and attorneys representing the police departments said settling claims is often more cost-efficient than fighting them in court. And settlements rarely involve an admission or finding of wrongdoing. Because of this there is no reason to hold officers accountable for them, said Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police labor union with more than 364,000 members.“If there’s never been a finding of guilt or anyone’s fault, why put that in an officer’s record?” Pasco said. “That would be such a glaring omission of due process where in the legal system in the United States, a person is innocent until proven guilty.”
The Post reached out to scores of officers named in claims that led to payments. Some were no longer working for the departments. Most had no comment or, like Moore, did not return phone calls.
Two officers in Boston who had the highest number of claims settled have since retired. But both said the allegations — ranging from excessive force to wrongful arrest — did not accurately portray their work while on the force.
Paul Murphy, who was named in four lawsuits totaling about $5.2 million in payments, said he “tried to do the best I could” as an officer. But he added, “sometimes things happened.” He declined to elaborate.
One Detroit officer said he wished the city had fought the lawsuits because he believed the cases had no credibility and those making the allegations had been ɑгᴍᴇԀ or resisting arrest. “It’s called the Detroit lottery,” said the officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he had not received permission to speak publicly. “People have been convicted and are in prison filing lawsuits knowing they can get paid.”
Multimillion-dollar settlements regarding allegations of police misconduct often generate headlines. Minneapolis paid $27 million to the family of George Floyd, and Louisville paid $12 million to Breonna Taylor’s family.
Those cases are the exception: The median amount of the payments tracked by The Post was $17,500, and most cases were resolved with little or no publicity.
Many of the officers who had the highest number of claims against them were participating in task forces targeting gangs, Ԁгᴜɡѕ or ɡᴜпѕ, records show.
Pasco said he is not surprised that these officers would be the subject of multiple lawsuits, given the assignments. And given, he said, that the nation has become a “litigious society.”
“It’s the cost of policing,” he said. “That’s the reason crime, until recently, has declined.”
New York, Chicago and Los Angeles alone accounted for the bulk of the overall payments documented by The Post — more than $2.5 billion. In New York, more than 5,000 officers were named in two or more claims, accounting for 45% of the money the city spent on misconduct cases. I
In Palm Beach County, Fla., officials paid out $25.6 million in the past decade: One-third of that was generated by 54 deputies who were the subject of repeated claims.
The data provided by cities included no demographic information about the people who filed the claims. But Chicago attorney Mark Parts, who has handled scores of lawsuits against police, said most of his clients have been Black or Hispanic.“The folks who are aggressively policed and confronted by officers in the course of their daily lives are people of color,” Parts said. “I have found the majority of those whose rights are repeatedly violated are African Americans and Hispanics.”
In the D.C. region, more than 100 officers have been named in multiple claims that led to payments.
In Prince George’s County, Md., 47 officers had their conduct challenged more than once, resulting in at least two payments each accounting for $7.1 million out of $54 million paid within the decade. Two in five payments involved an officer named in more than one claim. The totals are skewed by a $20 million payment to the family of 43-year-old William Green, who was fɑтɑʟʟʏ ѕһᴏт while his hands were cuffed behind his back in the front seat of a police cruiser.
Cpl. Clarence Black was the subject of four settled cases, the most in the department. In 2010, the county paid $125,000 to a husband and wife who alleged Black ɑѕѕɑᴜʟтᴇԀ them. In 2013, a Temple Hills family received $60,000 after alleging Black and four other officers illegally entered their home. In 2014, a woman got $10,000 after alleging Black punched her shoulder. And in 2019, a man collected $190,000 after alleging that Black illegally handcuffed him as he retrieved a bottle of water.
Black, a former officer of the year who joined the force in 2002, was indicted in August on two counts of second-degree ɑѕѕɑᴜʟт and two counts of misconduct in office after being accused of ɑѕѕɑᴜʟтɪпɡ a driver during a traffic stop in Temple Hills. Black’s attorney did not return calls requesting comment. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go to trial in July.
In the District, 65 officers have been named in repeated claims, accounting for $7.6 million of the more than $90 million in claims paid — the fifth-highest overall of the 25 cities surveyed. That total includes $54 million paid on four claims involving officers who were named in no other cases.
Officer Fredrick Onoja was the subject of five cases that led to payments from 2014 to 2019 totaling $116,000, the most of any officer on the force. Five Black men separately sued Onoja accusing him of wrongful arrests and harassment. They alleged that the 44-year-old Onoja — who has been on the force since 2011 — fabricated evidence against them in the 5th District neighborhood he patrolled.
Dustin Sternbeck, a D.C. police spokesperson, said Onoja had been “disciplined” for his actions, but declined to elaborate. Onoja, through the department, declined to comment. In a statement, Sternbeck said the department investigates allegations against officers made in lawsuits. “If the investigation sustains misconduct, the department takes appropriate action, ranging from retraining to termination, depending on the nature of the misconduct sustained,” he wrote.
In Fairfax, the county settled seven cases, totaling $6.1 million.
In general, the government officials in many of the cities who were interviewed said the decisions to settle claims are made on a case-by-case basis.In Chicago, officials “evaluate cases for potential risk and liability, and to take appropriate steps to minimize financial exposure to the city,” said Kristen Cabanban, spokesperson for the city’s Law Department.
It is often cheaper to settle a case than pay attorneys’ fees “that in many cases dwarf the actual damages award,” said Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city of Minneapolis.
Even when payments are covered by insurance claims, taxpayers ultimately still pay as those claims drive up the cost of the insurance.
The Post found that few cities publicize their payments or make it easy for the public to identify the officers involved. Of the 25 cities surveyed, four reported tracking payment information. The others declined to answer or said they were unaware of any city department that did such tracking.
Minneapolis, Palm Beach County, Fairfax County and Detroit were among the few places that recorded payments by officers’ names in the records provided to The Post. Portland organized cases by the officers’ badge numbers.
Most cities reported payments by the name of the person who filed the claim or, if the case led to a lawsuit, the number assigned in court. The Post identified the officers involved in tens of thousands of cases by reviewing individual claim summaries and court records.
There are disincentives to such tracking, legal and policing experts said.
“If an officer has multiple lawsuits, then the city is in jeopardy of negligent retention,” says Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief with the Los Angeles Police Department and current adviser with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a criminal justice reform group. “Few cities want to risk retaining that information to avoid being part of an even more costly lawsuit.”
Policing experts also noted that prosecutors rely on officers to testify in criminal cases; settlement tracking could be used by defense attorneys to challenge an officer’s credibility.
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