By Donna Owens
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - Baltimore city officials on Wednesday approved a $6.4 million civil settlement to the family of Freddie Gray, a black man whose death from an injury in police custody triggered protests and rioting.
The unanimous vote by the Board of Estimates comes ahead of a Thursday hearing on moving the trials of six police officers charged in Gray's death out of the city.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a member of the financial control panel, said the payment would resolve any related civil claims against Baltimore and avoid possibly years of federal litigation over Gray's death.
"This settlement is about making the right fiscal decision for the city of Baltimore," she said at a news conference.
Rawlings-Blake said the settlement bore no judgment on the guilt or innocence of the six officers.
The mayor also extended her condolences to the Gray family. "Money cannot bring back a ... loved one but I hope it will bring some measure of closure," she said.
Rawlings-Blake rejected criticism of the deal from the Fraternal Order of Police, saying the settlement meant the charged officers would be protected from any civil suit.
City Solicitor George Nilson said negotiations had lasted three and a half months. The $6.4 million payment is based on those from similar police cases, including the $5.9 million New York paid to the family of Eric Garner, a black man who died in 2014 from a chokehold by an officer, he said.
Billy Murphy, a lawyer for the Gray family, said at a news conference that he had been approached by the city about a deal.
Asked if the family would attend the trials, he said that "they want to grieve in peace."
The hearing in Baltimore City Circuit Court will be on whether the officers' separate trials should be moved from the largely black city of about 620,000 people.
Defense lawyers argue that intense publicity makes it impossible to hold a fair trial in Baltimore.
The officers face charges ranging from second-degree depraved heart murder to assault and misconduct. Three of the officers are black and three are white.
Officers arrested Gray, 25, on April 12 after a foot chase. He was bundled into a police transport van while shackled and handcuffed, and was not seatbelted.
He died a week later from a spinal injury. His death sparked protests and rioting and fueled a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities.
(Reporting by Donna Owens; Editing by Susan Heavey and Lisa Lambert)