In death, Freddie Gray has become a symbol to many in Baltimore and beyond while being simultaneously, in the view of city prosecutors, a victim of a crime.
These two existences have always been in conflict since Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced charges against six police officers. But the clash became more pronounced this week after a Baltimore judge acquitted Officer Edward Nero of allegations stemming from his role in Gray’s arrest.
At one extreme, there’s the school of thought that the verdict – combined with a mistrial in an earlier case – proves Mosby vastly overreached with charges, presumably motivated by her political ambitions as much as a desire to cool down a city that seemed to teeter on the verge of going out of control.
The counter-narrative is that there will be no “justice” for Gray, that the criminal justice system is rigged and offers little protection to the impoverished underclass.
Well, no and no.
As Daily Record reporter Heather Cobun wrote, Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams painstakingly parsed each element of the charges against Nero and what evidence was presented – or not presented – to support them. Williams concluded the state did not prove all elements of the counts against Nero beyond a reasonable doubt.
Tellingly, the judge’s verdict was greeted with appreciation by no less than an attorney for Gray’s family.
Williams’ explanations were “extremely helpful” and something not usually derived from a jury, said attorney Jason Downs. “Judge Williams was meticulous in his thought process on why the state did not meet its burden,” said Downs, of Murphy, Falcon & Murphy. “We should all look to this opinion as a guidepost for reasonable doubt.”
Every party in this case – prosecutors, Gray’s family, the police officers who are charged and their supporters – and all in the larger community profess to want justice. But what outcome will be viewed as “just”?
Gray’s family and many of those who had demonstrated on his behalf believe someone should be held accountable. Gray, his hands manacled behind his back, his feet trussed together, was put face down on the floor of a van that took its leisurely time delivering him to his destination, his pleas for immediate medical help ignored. When he arrived, his neck had snapped. Hogs shipped to the slaughterhouse are transported with more care than what Gray received on his tragic trip.
To what extent – if any – are the police officers absolved of criminality if it can be shown that the police department’s slovenly training process failed miserably to prepare them? Should we applaud the Baltimore Police Department for announcing this week it will use apps to make sure officers read and understand new rules? Or should we be outraged the department has to make sure officers are reading the policies in the first place?
How will the community feel if at the end of this process there are no guilty verdicts, only an overhaul of the city’s training regimen, some internal discipline of officers and a $6.4 million civil settlement the city of Baltimore agreed to with Gray’s family?
A small cottage industry has grown around the business of pillorying Mosby for overreaching, for playing to the crowd with the announced indictments. While we were not great fans of some of Mosby’s comments at the time, the vitriolic nature of some of this criticism and the personal nature of the Monday-morning lawyering regarding her performance are excessive. Her handling of these cases certainly deserve scrutiny – tough scrutiny – as they would if brought by any prosecutor. But the personal and insulting nature of some of these comments reflect less on Mosby than on those particular critics.
The trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, who faces the most serious charges in connection with Gray’s death, is scheduled to begin June 6. Judge Williams’ careful and thoughtfully constructed verdict in Nero’s case gave some hope that the criminal process will proceed with fairness and with legal precision. We think those seeking to anticipate the outcome of the upcoming trials are doing a disservice to our city. Let the process play out.