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‘Annoyed and tired,’ Davis vows to speak out on future state settlements in opposition of requests from attorneys

Treasurer Dereck Davis said is “annoyed and tired” of being asked to approve lawsuit settlements “because people don’t know how to act.” Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Maryland’s treasurer said he will no longer keep quiet when voting on some settlements of lawsuits against the state despite admonitions that he not divulge details.

Since joining the Board of Public Works in December 2021, Treasurer Dereck Davis (D) has raised concerns about settlements involving the state, many involving law enforcement agencies or correctional officers. Some attorneys representing the state, however, want some details kept out of the public view.

“I would like to say to our attorneys and so forth when they’re negotiating settlements in the future: If me being quiet is contingent upon those agreements, then you might well forget it. That’s not going to happen,” Davis said at Wednesday’s meeting of the panel.

The treasurer made his comments after asking for two settlements to be segregated from the agenda for a separate vote.

In the first case, the board approved an $85,000 settlement with Lester DeShazor, an inmate at the Western Correctional Institution in Cumberland.

In a 2019 complaint in U.S. District Court, DeShazor alleged he was the victim of retaliation by correctional officers who he had sued in 2011. DeShazor said that after a request to be transferred away from the facility, the officers planted a knife on him and assaulted him.

In another case, the board approved a $100,000 settlement with Lonnie Murrill. In 2015, Murrill was an inmate at the Baltimore City Detention Center. While there, Murrill claimed he was improperly confined and later attacked while praying in his cell by another inmate, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

Murrill alleged he lay unconscious in the cell for hours before being discovered. The assault required treatment at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma. Murrill claimed permanent damage to his neck and spine that left him in persistent and severe pain.

“So the secrecy that is always grounded in terms of these settlements, the Board of Public Works is not a court of law. And I’m not an attorney,” said Davis. “So those things as far as I’m concerned, don’t apply to me. And I’m going to treat it as such.”

Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) and Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D) voted to approve the settlement without additional discussion. Davis was the sole dissenting vote.

It isn’t the first time Davis has spoken out about lawsuit settlements.

In February, Davis said state agencies should avoid lawsuits and costly settlements.

During that meeting, the treasurer noted that the state was on pace to pay out $750,000 related to lawsuits. The money comes from state agency budgets that Davis called, at the time, “a slush fund to pay out for agency misbehavior.”

Sometime after that meeting, Davis said a memo was sent asking board members to refrain from discussing details of cases about to be settled.

Davis told Maryland Matters he “identified with the memo.”

“I think it was just for me to be perfectly honest with you,” said Davis. “Everybody may have gotten it but I seem to be the jerk that keeps, you know, (providing details).”

He said the memo advised Davis and others to ask questions in private.

“I don’t really have any questions. You know, I read and I understand,” Davis said after the meeting. “When I make those comments, I’m not really talking to the secretary or the lawyers. I’m talking to the public, to the media. I think that they have a right to know where this money is going and why we are spending it. I think if they got the opportunity to read what I read they would be just as appalled as I am. I can’t in good conscience just give away their money knowing what I know and saying nothing, not informing them of what’s going on. And it happens repeatedly.”

The treasurer said the money going to settle lawsuits could be better spent on raises and education and staffing.

“I’m annoyed with all of this and I’m tired of having to keep giving money because people don’t know how to act,” he said.

Davis said he plans to speak out, in detail, the next time a settlement comes before the board. The treasurer said he expects consequences but isn’t sure what they will be.

“I’m sure there will be,” he said. “That’s why I’m telling the attorneys when you are making these agreements, let them know that cantankerous, miserable old goat in the treasurer’s office, he’s going to speak on it. So if a deal, a settlement is contingent upon everybody being quiet and playing nice, there’s going to be one that isn’t. They need to know that before they agree to anything that I’m going to do my thing. And if that’s a problem, then go to court.”

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct which settlements Treasurer Dereck Davis pulled out for a separate vote at the Board of Public Works meeting. An earlier version incorrectly included an unrelated case. 


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‘Annoyed and tired,’ Davis vows to speak out on future state settlements in opposition of requests from attorneys