The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office dropped Wednesday all remaining charges against officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, a stunning and sudden conclusion to a case that flared local tensions and became part of the national conversation on police conduct and race relations.
The announcement came in Baltimore City Circuit Court before what was supposed to be a pretrial hearing for the case of Officer Garrett Miller. Instead, prosecutors used the opportunity to drop the charges against Miller. Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe dropped charges against Officer William Porter and Sgt. Alicia White. Schatzow and Bledsoe have led the prosecution in the previous four trials, which resulted in one hung jury and three acquittals.
After three straight acquittals in bench trials before Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams, there were few theories left for prosecutors to offer that Williams had not already rejected, a fact State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby acknowledged in a press conference following the dropping of the charges.
“As a mother, the decision not to proceed on these remaining trial is agonizing,” Mosby said, adding that the remaining officers likely also would have chosen bench trials. But “I must consider the dismal likelihood of a conviction at this point. …The judge has made it clear he does not agree with the state’s theory.”
But a defiant Mosby praised her prosecutors for their work on the case and accused “individual” police officers of trying to sabotage her office’s work while praising Commissioner Kevin Davis for his assistance.
“The decision to prosecute six police officers was not and has never been an indictment of the entire Baltimore Police Department,” she said. “For those that believe I am anti-police, that is simply not the case. I’m anti-police brutality.”
Mosby spoke outside Gilmor Homes, the west Baltimore public housing project where Gray was arrested April 12, 2015. He sustained a severe spinal cord injury while riding in the back of a police van. She did not take questions, citing pending civil defamation suits filed against her by five of the six officers.
Gray’s death a week later touched off rioting in Baltimore and ultimately led to the firing of police Commander Anthony Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s decision not to run for re-election.
The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation into Gray’s death as well as examining the police department’s practices.
‘Perpetuate the fear’
Mosby announced charges May 1, 2015 on the steps of the War Memorial Building. Some said her announcement had a “calming effect” on the city, while others accused her of prosecutorial overreach.
At a press conference held Wednesday afternoon by the local Fraternal Order of Police, police union president Gene Ryan and attorneys for the officers charged in connection with Gray’s death criticized Mosby’s decision to file charges, claiming the choice was hasty and helped “perpetuate the fear” dividing the country.
“Everybody wanted to find out what happened to Freddie Gray,” said Ivan Bates, an attorney for Sgt. Alicia White. “The Baltimore City Police, they did the investigation and they said it was an accident. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office had an opportunity to do an in-depth investigation, and they did not. It is the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office that has denied justice to the Gray family and denied justice to these officers.”
A. Dwight Pettit, a Baltimore solo practitioner, said he was not surprised by Mosby’s decision to drop the remaining charges. Despite the lack of convictions in the cases against the officers, Pettit said he believes the decision to prosecute the officers will ultimately have a significant effect on future interactions between police officers and the Baltimore community.
“I think this has had a very positive impact overall,” said Pettit, who represents plaintiffs in police brutality lawsuits. “I applaud Ms. Mosby for bringing the charges and having the tenacious attitude to stick with it as long as she could. I think it sent a message in terms of law enforcement in Baltimore city that certain conduct will not be tolerated, and there are people who will pursue sanctions against illegal activity, even though in this case it has resulted in acquittals.”
Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor, said Mosby “absolutely” made the correct decision in dropping the charges. The biggest takeaway from the outcome of the cases, he said, was the importance of conducting a thorough investigation before filing charges, an approach that he said future prosecutors of police will likely employ.
“You hope that there will be a more thoughtful approach to separating the perceived political desirability or acceptability of filing charges from the need to investigate thoroughly and consider the appropriateness and likelihood of success in filing the charges,” said Frenkel, a member of Dickinson Wright PLLC in Washington. “I think the haste with which the state’s attorney filed the charges and the public resolve created for the state a runaway freight train that either would reach its destination to fireworks and applause, or crash disastrously — and it is the latter that occurred.”
Baltimore lawyer Dominic Iamele, who represents plaintiffs in police brutality lawsuits, said many saw Mosby’s decision to bring charges as laudable because it helped quell tensions when the city was still reeling from the unrest that broke out after Gray’s funeral last April.
However, the practical impact of the state’s attorney’s announcement on the steps of the War Memorial Building does not invalidate criticism of the timing of her speech, said Iamele, a former prosecutor.
“On the other side of that point, I think that there was a rush to judgment, and it vilified six officers who, as it turns out, respectively did not do anything to compromise their role as police officers, so you have that kind of balance,” said Iamele, of Iamele & Iamele LLP. “It had its moment, but going beyond the moment to the actual proof, that’s where the cases failed.”
Officer Edward Nero, one of the arresting officers, was acquitted in May. Prosecutors accused him of assault and misconduct for conducting an illegal arrest of Gray as well as reckless endangerment and misconduct for failing to use a seat belt.
Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police transport van charged with depraved heart murder as well as manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office, was acquitted last month.
Earlier in July, Lt. Brian Rice was acquitted Monday of manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office charges, also making him the third officer to be found not guilty in a bench trial in front of Williams.
Porter, whose initial jury trial ended in a mistrial, was scheduled to be tried again in September.
Daily Record legal affairs writer Lauren Kirkwood contributed to this report.