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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter7:58 pmJun 6, 20230

Baltimore to pay CSX for a water main break and $500,000 to a teenager injured by a police Taser

UPDATES: DPW knew about a leak in the Howard Street Tunnel, but did nothing to stop it. The police officer who Tazed the unarmed boy is now getting a city pension and says he doesn’t remember the incident.

Above: In July 2019, the force of water from the broken pipe caused a Light Rail platform to tumble into CSX’s Howard Street Tunnel. (Fern Shen)

The Brew described it as “a scene of infrastructure misery” that played out near the convention center downtown on a hot summer morning in 2019:

“Conventioneers gaped as pieces of streetscape teetered at crazy angles – chunks of brick pavement, a TRAIN COMING signal on a pole, a manhole cover – as contractors, city workers and police swarmed around the collapse site at the intersection of Howard and Pratt streets.”

The water main break that sank a portion of the roadway, gobbling up parts of a Light Rail platform, also flooded out the rail tunnel beneath Howard Street.

The latest byproduct of Baltimore’s failing infrastructure: a sinkhole and snarled traffic (7/10/19)

The force of the water sent tons of silt into the tunnel, derailing several cars of a passing freight train. The silt flowed through storm drains into the Inner Harbor, turning the water into a sickly yellow-brown paste.

Tomorrow the Board of Estimates is set to pay $245,000 to the Florida-based railroad company for the damage caused to the 130-year-old tunnel.

6/14/23 UPDATE. Revealed at today’s BOE meeting: Two weeks before the sinkhole appeared, a joint inspection by CSX and the Department of Public Works had found water entering the tunnel under Pratt Street.

But nothing was done, and Deputy City Solicitor Stephen Salsbury today told the board – minus Mayor Brandon Scott, who absent for unstated reasons – that the cause of the sinkhole was never determined.

“There may have been other causes that led to the sinkhole, including electrical current from the Light Rail that could have had a corrosive effect on the area,” Salsbury said. (The Light Rail line is powered by overhead wires, and only a very low level of electricity, for signaling, runs through the surface tracks.)

Comptroller Bill Henry’s attempts to find out why DPW did not repair the pipe after the leak was detected went unanswered.

Instead, Timothy Wolfe, DPW’s Chief of Engineering, said he was not a city employee in 2019, “so I wasn’t privy to that information.”

“But I do know how we normally respond,” he said, noting that DPW “has a protocol to detect leaks and to bring in different technologies to determine, isolate and locate” the source.

“Are there any measures or policies in place today that would help DPW approach a situation like this differently,” Henry asked.

“Obviously, it’s hard. As soon as we hear information about a potential leak, we then mobilize our crews and our support staff,” Wolfe replied, repeating the prior information he gave to the board.

Tased in the Groin

At the same time, the BOE will also settle for $500,000 a lawsuit brought by Sean Lewis Jr. against a Baltimore police officer who Tased him with such force that he had to undergo surgery.

The incident happened on May 15, 2018 when Officer Chris Florio was asked to remove the 15-year-old from a sidewalk outside Lockerman Bundy Elementary School where he had come to fetch his younger brother.

“Officer Florio immediately drew his Taser, training it on Lewis and continuing to aim it at him throughout their encounter,” according to a court summary of the facts.

Lewis complied with Florio’s demand to vacate the sidewalk, but the officer “continued to engage Lewis for another 15 minutes while aiming his Taser at the teenager. At some point during this prolonged interaction, Officer Florio deployed the Taser.”

Shot four times with the Tazer, the boy was transported in handcuffs to the hospital, where he underwent surgery to remove the prong in his groin. He was never charged with a crime.

In October 2021, Lewis filed a federal lawsuit alleging battery and an unconstitutional arrest that had resulted in physical injuries, medical costs and emotional distress.

Represented by the city, Florio countered that the teenager had yelled at him and stepped towards him, justifying his use of the Taser.

Last September, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake denied Florio’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which led to the recommended settlement “to avoid the expense, time and uncertainties of further protracted litigation and the potential for an excess judgment,” according to the city law department.

Previous Rough Arrest

Two years before the Taser incident, Florio was one of three officers accused of throwing a 56-year-old woman to the ground at a BP gas station in West Baltimore.

Theresa Rouse filed a civil lawsuit arising from the incident in which Florio was seen putting his knee against the woman’s neck, then handcuffing her while she was face down on the ground. (Cellphone footage was taken by an onlooker.)

A flicked cigarette and a knee to the neck (3/29/21)

The city paid the victim $45,000, while BPD’s Internal Affairs Division cleared Florio of any mishandling of the arrest.

He and the other officers faced no further disciplinary action, even though U.S. District Court Judge George Russell noted that Rouse “was considerably smaller than [Florio], who had no reason to believe that she was armed or especially dangerous.”

During litigation, Florio indicated that he did not remember Tasering the boy.

Hired as a police officer in 1998, Florio was paid $94,338 in salary and overtime in 2021, according to online records.

UPDATE: Salsbury told the BOE today that Florio recently retired for medical reasons and indicated during litigation that he did not remember the Taser incident.

Salsbury said he believed Florio was now receiving a city pension. The cost of today’s settlement would not be deducted from his pension check.

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