BALTIMORE (WJZ)– Dozens of business owners are suing Baltimore because they said city leadership failed to protect them and their property during the 2015 riots.
Some lost everything and now they’re fighting back.
The new lawsuit details attacks on business owners in the riots following Freddie Gray’s death as their stores were looted.
The plaintiffs blame police and those at the highest levels of Baltimore City government.
The store owners repeatedly said there was a failure in leadership, that the mayor and police leadership did little to calm the simmering tensions and then left them to fend for themselves as chaos broke out.
Some felt helpless while hiding in their stores, where rioters viciously attacked them.
“No one was going to help that day. No one,” said store owner John Oh. “No one. No one came to help. No one. No police around here.”
Oh has owned a business on North Avenue since the 1970s. He’s not part of the lawsuit, but said it was clear police were not coming to the rescue.
The owner of the store across the street was hospitalized, according to the lawsuit. Looters attacked him and his daughter then stole their car and drove to their house.
“They could have done something? They didn’t do nothing. What they did?” Oh said.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer said “the City failed them when they adopted a policy of restraint and issued stand-down orders, caring more about the public perception that they feared would result with increased police presence than preventing what were clearly preventable riots.”
He took aim at a infamous statement from former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake:
“We also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well,” she said following the riots in 2015.
Rawlings-Blake is named in the suit, so is current mayor Catherine Pugh.
Pugh declined to comment on the suit Thursday.
“Sometimes, you just have to fend for yourself,” said looted business owner Otis Knight. Insurance covered his losses.
“I would say more power to them if they can be successful, although it’s questionable as to whether they could’ve done anything to really prevent the extensive damage,” he said on the lawsuit.
Knight never thought of leaving.
“I was raised in this city. This is my livelihood. I’m not going anywhere. I refused to be run out of the city that I am a part of.”
Knight said he was never asked to be part of that lawsuit.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer also alleges the City tricked some business owners who spoke little English into signing away their legal rights to get $5,000 recovery grants.
Maryland law does allow the property owners to sue the local government for damages after civil unrest.