Politics & Policy

Justice in Baltimore

State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby outside a Baltimore courthouse, June 9, 2016. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Maryland prosecutors have dropped all remaining charges against three Baltimore police officers relating to the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American who died last summer after suffering a severe spinal injury in a police van following his arrest. State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby — who began her prosecution by declaring that she would give voice to rioters’ ultimatum of “no justice, no peace” — has now failed to win a conviction against any of the six policemen charged. Three officers had already been acquitted at trial, and a fourth, William Porter, was due to be retried after his initial trial ended with a hung jury.

Officers acted reasonably in arresting Gray, and the medical examiner concluded that Gray would not have been injured if he had remained where he was placed — prone on the floor. Gray’s death was a tragic accident, not a prosecutable homicide.

Nonetheless, Black Lives Matter wanted to make the case a passion play about social justice, and Mosby — a prosecutor as demagogue — placed fealty to BLM’s stilted narrative above her duty. Her ethical and legal lapses are many: She conducted a hurried “independent investigation,” disregarding police findings; she delayed disclosure of key exculpatory evidence to the defense; she promoted a fantasy claim that Gray’s arrest was unlawful; she attempted to incite and prejudice the jury pool in order to gain convictions; she repeatedly used inflammatory rhetoric in public statements.

The claim of unlawful arrest, in particular, was irresponsible. By attempting to criminalize what from the defense’s point of view was, at most, a mistaken arrest, Mosby may have made police less likely to pursue legitimate arrests at the margins and thus contributed to the city’s rising tide of violence. If police fear that even a good-faith mistake in arresting a suspect could result in criminal charges, they will pull back.

It is true that internal police-department guidelines for restraining suspects may have been violated in the Gray case, but there is reason to believe that the officers involved were unaware of those guidelines. Moreover, the judge was impressed by the argument that the commotion around the police van during Gray’s detention necessitated speed in placing him in the van. Regardless, prosecutors shouldn’t premise a criminal conviction on the failure to follow an internal guideline — that’s the stuff of administrative discipline. While there might be need of reform at the Baltimore Police Department, these charges should never have been filed. That they were suggests that Mosby was playing to the mob rather than following the facts.

There was overwhelming evidence that none of the six officers intended to commit homicide and that none were criminally negligent. Meanwhile, the city settled a $6.4 million civil claim with the Gray family. The rioters said they wanted justice and now it has been done — no thanks to Marilyn Mosby.


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