It has been almost five months since Baltimore blogger and activist Apollos Frank James MacArthur, more popularly known as the Baltimore Spectator, was arrested in a spectacular display that was broadcast in real time over the Internet.
Now, two weeks before his May 8 trial date, supporters are questioning the official handling of the case, including several denials of bail and the state’s attorney’s failure to produce its evidence against MacArthur for his lawyers to review.
MacArthur frequents crime scenes and is a critic of police behavior.
Attorney Mark Van Bavel, who took on the case pro bono at the urging of his son, a blogger, said he is still awaiting discovery from the state’s attorney’s office, more than 30 days after he filed a written request on March 11.
“They’ve really been dragging their feet,” he said, adding that the delay undermines his ability to adequately prepare a defense. “Without seeing the evidence the prosecutors have against my client I won’t be able to prepare the case.”
When asked to respond, state’s attorney spokesman Mark Cheshire said the department does not comment on open cases.
MacArthur’s local and online supporters, however, say it seems like one more tactic by an “overzealous prosecution” to deliberately prolong the outspoken independent journalist’s ordeal.
“The way the state’s attorney’s office maneuvered this is blatantly unfair and irregular,” said attorney and lawmaker Del. Jill Carter, D-Baltimore, who initially handled MacArthur’s case. “The public has expressed a lot of anger with the judges, and the judges deserve some blame, but this is highly driven by the state’s attorney’s office.”
Carter said the nature of the charges against MacArthur have changed a number of times so he has never had a probable cause hearing.
When someone is arrested, he or she usually has a preliminary hearing where a grand jury or a judge decides whether there is sufficient probable cause to validate an indictment.
In MacArthur’s case, before that could happen—but not before the case was moved from District Court, where misdemeanors are usually tried—the state’s attorney’s office dropped the felony charges, including the violation of parole for which he was initially arrested, and filed a criminal information, re-charging him with misdemeanor counts of the illegal possession of a regulated weapon after being convicted of a disqualifying crime and resisting arrest.
While filing an information is not unlawful, it is uncommon, the attorney said, which raises some red flags.
“It wasn’t treated the same way which makes me feel the state’s attorney’s office had a motive in detaining him,” she said.
Those motives, she added, likely stem from disgruntlement over MacArthur’s dramatic Dec. 1 arrest at his house on the 600 block of McKewin Avenue—though the “street soldier” and his supporters believe police may be out to “get him” given his sustained and scathing criticism of the department.
Police arrived at the Waverly home intending to arrest MacArthur on a violation of probation warrant. MacArthur had been given a probation before judgment on the charge of possession of an unregistered handgun. The situation, police and prosecutors say, escalated into a “barricade situation,” when he refused to surrender himself to police, according to court documents.
When police breached the home, they found a sawed-off rifle in a closet. The discovery, along with his Twitter comments influenced the prosecution’s recommendations and eventually the commissioner’s and judges’ decision to deny bail four times, according to court documents.
“Considering his probation status, the threats to the police department and the recovery of the firearm, he is an EXTREME THREAT TO PUBLIC SAFETY,” the state’s attorney’s recommendation read.
And he also poses a flight risk given his “prior failures to appear and his use of aliases,” it continued.
In a March 23 letter addressed to his supporters, which was posted on the Indypendent Reader’s website, MacArthur said the government was conveying the circumstances in a “more alarming depiction than reality holds.”
Carter concurred: “At no time during the so-called standoff did he exhibit any dangerous behavior, he just tweeted some things and voiced his concerns about his safety,” she said.
And Van Bavel said officials’ response, including his client’s months-long detention was “extreme,” and that he was neither a danger to society nor a flight risk.
Meanwhile, MacArthur said he believes that when he gets his day in court, he will be vindicated.
“In due time the truth shall be revealed,” he wrote in his public letter. “My hope and confidence resides in knowing there is a God and He sees everything… I am comforted knowing vengeance belongs to God.”