The morning of April 12, 2015 was like so many others in Baltimore. The city was waking up, police beginning to go about their business of detecting, defeating, and deterring crime. Lt. Brian Rice and others were assigned to a drug trafficking and violence reduction mission when he noticed a group of men setting up what he believed to be a drug sale spot. The police were only recently told to concentrate efforts on this particular location by the Baltimore chief prosecutor. When the officer was noticed, two of the men fled and Lt. Rice called for help in the pursuit. A short distance away, two Baltimore bicycle patrol officers, Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, closed in on one of the fleeing suspects, Freddie Gray, who realized the futility of his flight and surrendered to detention. Gray was handcuffed and walked a short distance to where the police bikes were dropped. The officers then noticed, and took from Gray, a spring-loaded folding knife, an illegal knife, and arrested him.
Freddie Gray was well known to police. He had arrest after arrest for drug related crimes and was known to engage in street theatrics, which began as soon as the knife was taken from him. Despite his earlier asking for his inhaler as he was having trouble breathing after running from the police, Gray began flailing, kicking and screaming, which started to draw a crowd in the neighborhood. The gathering crowd encouraged Gray and caused the police to quickly put him in a police wagon and move a few blocks away so that he could be more effectively secured. As soon as the wagon doors were closed, Gray began kicking them and screaming at the officers.
A few blocks away, the officers put leg shackles on the combative detainee, who continued to violently kick and bang against the police wagon’s interior partition. Once again, a crowd started to grow around the police scene and the officers drove off.
The police wagon driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, made two more brief stops, the second to check on the combative Gray. At the second stop, Officer Goodson requested a backup officer to assist. Officer Porter checked on Gray, who had no visible injuries and was talking freely; however, Officer Porter asked Gray if he wanted to go to the hospital and Gray responded affirmatively. Moments later, Lt. Rice asked for urgent backup and transport wagon near the original arrest location for another arrests and the officers immediately responded.
On their return to North Avenue, a second fleeing suspect had been taken into custody and was placed in the other side of the police wagon with Gray. By now, Sgt. Alicia White was on the scene and she asked Gray whether he had a complaint to make. Gray didn’t respond and the wagon departed. Between that (fifth) stop and the district office, Gray was violently, aggressively banging his head against the wagon’s internal partition. When police went to remove the second detainee from the wagon, officers checked on Freddie Gray and immediately summoned medical help.
Within one day of the completion of an investigative report on Gray’s arrest, transport, and death, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby stacked felony charges against four of the six police officers. The two other officers were charged with misdemeanor crimes. In announcing the charges, she telegraphed the force behind this astonishing rush to judgment, saying to demonstrators who had been assaulting police and destroying parts of the city, “I heard your call for ‘No justice, no peace.’” Folding to mob rule, Mosby intends to seek her version of justice for a repeat criminal offender who very likely caused his own fatal injuries. She has no evidence to the contrary.
Today, the six officers here face professional, emotional, financial, and reputational catastrophe. They stand charged with crimes up to “depraved heart murder” for allegedly failing to seatbelt Freddie Gray into a police wagon. Meanwhile, their chief accuser polishes her own reputation by racing for a Vogue magazine profile and later taking to the stage at a Prince concert in honor of Gray.
UPDATE – July 2016: Finally, after a hung jury/mistrial of Officer William Porter, and three successive trials where Baltimore Judge Barry Williams found Officers Ed Nero and Caesar Goodson and Lt. Brian Rice NOT GUILTY of each and every hollow charge against them, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby saw the writing on the wall. On July 27, 2016, her office dropped all charges against three Baltimore officers. But she did so while holding a press event where she pointed the finger of blame at everyone and everything EXCEPT herself for the abysmal failure of her judgment from the beginning.
The charges Mosby’s office brought against the Baltimore Six were devoid of fact, lacking in actual evidence and therefore a model for the sort of case the LELDF supports. Mosby’s words and deeds were a classic rush to judgment, one that often proves to be a serious mistake for a prosecutor. She took a Baltimore Police Department investigation of the Freddie Gray death and brought charges within a day. Her theories of the case, that the arresting officers lacked probable cause despite Gray’s flight and despite his possession of an illegal knife; that the officers somehow illegally assaulted Gray; that Gray was given a “rough ride”, proved to be just that – theories. In each case, the prosecution either failed to back the theory with proof or put before Judge Williams inference, supposition, and innuendo unsupported by facts.
Judge Barry Williams, an African American who previously worked as a trial prosecutor for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, understood and applied the law. He should be commended for his fierce independence and willingness to weigh each and every bit of admissible evidence and to stand against unwarranted pressure to get a result some in the community, and Marilyn Mosby, wanted.
While the LELDF celebrates Judge Williams in acquitting three of these officers, we also condemn the reckless state’s attorney who initiated this disaster, which should and will cloud her political future. We at LELDF will continue to support the Baltimore Six, the Baltimore FOP, and the men and women of the Baltimore Police Department whose reputations and financial position has been irreparably harmed by an irresponsible chief prosecutor. Please stand with us and them!