In this March 3, 2016, file photo, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, left, arrives at Maryland Court of Appeals in Annapolis, Md. The stakes are high in the upcoming trial for an officer prosecutors say bears the most responsibility for the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man whose spine was snapped in the back of a police transport wagon. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
A judge gave himself until June 22 to decide the fate of an officer in whose van the neck of a young black arrestee was somehow broken.
It could take much longer to repair the tense and uneasy relationship between Baltimore’s prosecutors and police, now that they’ve traded accusations of sabotage, misconduct and dirty dealings during the third trial of an officer in the death of Freddie Gray.
The betrayal of the symbiotic relationship police and prosecutors maintain in most cities has been particularly unwelcome in Baltimore, where murders reached a 40-year high last year and some neighborhoods have yet to recover from the riots that followed Gray’s death.
“The citizens of the city have to wonder: If the two agencies can’t work together to investigate and prosecute crime, where do we stand?” said Warren Alperstein, a prominent attorney in the city.
If Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquits Officer Caesar Goodson, who also is Black, of “depraved-heart” murder, manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office, prosecutors may have to reconsider trying officers who were less involved in Gray’s death.
Whatever the verdict, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby may have decisions to make.
Her allegations that six officers intended to fatally injure the resistant prisoner prompted five of them to sue her for defamation. Her chief deputy, accused of withholding evidence, told the judge that the lead police investigator had pressured the coroner to falsely declare Gray’s death an accident.
“It is extraordinarily rare to hear a prosecutor accuse a reputable, prominent lead detective of sabotaging the state’s case,” Alperstein said. “Calling into question a detective who the commanders appointed to lead the case sends a clear message. It breeds distrust.”
Fissures had formed even before Mosby vowed last year to deliver justice to an outraged citizenry. She said the charges resulted from a “comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation,” even though police investigators said they had felt pressured to hand over their evidence prematurely.
Mosby and everyone else involved in the trials are prohibited by the judge from commenting.
Since Gray’s death last spring, Baltimore police have been under a microscope.
The U.S. Justice Department is investigating allegations of widespread abuse and unwarranted arrests. The mayor fired her police commissioner Anthony Batts and promoted his deputy, Kevin Davis, but decided against a re-election bid amid criticism of her handling of the riots.
And Maryland’s legislature updated the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill Of Rights, in the law’s first significant overhaul since it was established 1974.
Still, many feel the changes didn’t go far enough. Police supervisors must still wait 5 days before questioning officers suspected of committing crimes; it used to be 10. And officers still can’t be fired without an internal review or a felony conviction, even if, like Goodson, they refuse to talk with investigators.
Mosby’s office has made other decisions that frustrate police: In March, prosecutors dropped charges against nine people charged after a sweeping raid found drugs, guns and ammunition; two suspects were soon charged in new crimes, including a quintuple shooting on Memorial Day.
Davis responded carefully, saying that while police and prosecutors have a “working” and “healthy” relationship, more must be done.
“There’s a hyper focus on the police: What are the police doing, what’s the plan, what’s the strategy. We have those strategies and we’re making progress,” he said. “There are other pieces to that law enforcement puzzle I believe need to be held to that same standard.”
Baltimore attorney Steve Levin praised police for their reforms in the past year.
“The police are now wearing cameras on their uniforms, and even have cameras in their police vans,” he said. “But I think it’ll soon be time to talk about reform in the prosecutor’s office. As the judge himself said, if the most senior attorneys in the office don’t recognize exculpatory material, that’s a problem.”