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A step toward justice in Baltimore

By Richard B. Muhammad | Last updated: May 5, 2015 - 9:45:27 AM

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Baltimore state's attorney files unprecedented indictment against 6 police officers as efforts to obtain justice for Freddie Gray move forward and the nation sees a different side of the legal process.

BALTIMORE ( - Marilyn J. Mosby’s decision to charge six officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray sent shockwaves across the country.

(Top) Baltimore Police Officers charged in Freddie Gray Death case. (Bottom) Baltimore Police apprehending Freddie Gray. Photos: MGN Online
“What Marilyn Mosby has done is symbolic of how state’s attorneys around the country ought to conduct their independent investigations and let the information go forward, which allowed her to bring the indictments against the six police officers.”
–Baltimore State Senator Catherine Pugh

The young state’s attorney’s decision was almost unprecedented in the speed with which the charges were filed, her independence from the city police department and her refusal to pass the buck in a highly charged case.

“No one is above the law,” she declared May 1. She listed charges against Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 45: Second-degree depraved murder, manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of vehicular manslaughter charges and misconduct in office. Officer William Porter, 25: Involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office. Lt. Brian Rice, 41: Involuntary manslaughter, two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and false imprisonment. Officer Edward Nero, 29: Two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and false imprisonment. Officer Garrett Miller, 26: Two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and one false imprisonment charge. Sgt. Alicia White, 30: Involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

“Sgt. Alicia White, Officer Porter and Officer Goodson observed Mr. Gray unresponsive on the floor of the wagon. Sgt. White who is responsible for investigating two citizen complaints pertaining to Mr. Gray’s illegal arrest spoke to the back of Mr. Gray’s head,” said the state’s attorney.

“When he did not respond, she did nothing further despite the fact that she was advised that he needed a medic. She made no effort to look or assess or determine his condition.”

“Despite Mr. Gray’s seriously deteriorating medical condition, no medical assistance was rendered or summoned for Mr. Gray at that time by any officer,” she continued. “Mr. Gray was rushed to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma where he underwent surgery. On April 19, 2015, Mr. Gray succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead. The manner of death deemed homicide by the Maryland Medical Examiner is believed to be the result of a fatal injury that occurred while Mr. Gray was unrestrained by a seatbelt in custody of the Baltimore Police Department wagon.”

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore state’s attorney, speaks during a media availability, May 1, in Baltimore. Mosby announced criminal charges against all six officers suspended after Freddie Gray suffered a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

The officers charged have been released on bonds of between $250,000 and $350,000.

“For the average citizen there would be no bail,” said defense lawyer Warren Brown.

The announcement, less than a day after receiving the police department’s criminal investigation and official autopsy results, took the city by surprise. So too did her detailed description, based in part on her office’s independent investigation, of the evidence supporting probable cause to charge all six officers with felonies.

The police had no reason to stop or chase after Mr. Gray, Ms. Mosby said. They falsely accused him of having an illegal switchblade when in fact it was a legal pocketknife. The van driver and the other officers failed to strap him down with a seatbelt, a direct violation of department policy, and they ignored Mr. Gray’s repeated pleas for medical attention, even rerouting the van to pick up another passenger.

Ms. Mosby did not say whether there was any indication the driver deliberately drove erratically, causing Mr. Gray’s body to strike the van’s interior. In 2005, a man died of a fractured spine after he was transported in a Baltimore police van in handcuffs and without a seat belt. At a civil trial, an attorney for his family successfully argued police had given him a “rough ride.”

Carlos Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 6 at rally for Freddie Gray and justice. Photo: Ulysses Muhammad
“This is a small step toward justice.” There is still a long way to go and people have to stay interested and engaged.
–Carlos Muhammad, Muhammad Mosque No. 6

The officers missed five opportunities to help an injured and falsely imprisoned detainee before he arrived at the police station no longer breathing, Ms. Mosby said.

“We are satisfied with today’s charges,” Mr. Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, told a news conference. “These charges are an important step in getting justice for Freddie.”

The Fraternal Order of Police started howling about the charges and mounted a campaign picked up by White daily media questioning the decision and charging a conflict of interest because Ms. Mosby’s husband is a city councilman who represents the area where the Gray death occurred.

The charges of bias and unfitness lodged against the youngest major city prosecutor in the country are all the more ludicrous because she comes from a law enforcement family.

Her mother and father were officers as was her grandfather and several other family members. The actions of rogue cops taint the work of good officers and the charges are against six individuals not the entire department, she said.

Ms. Mosby rejected the police union request to step aside and appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case, and said honorable police officers should have no problem working with prosecutors in Baltimore.

Mr. Gray was stopped by police in Sandtown, a poor, overwhelmingly Black neighborhood in West Baltimore. He locked eyes with a police officer and then ran. Two blocks later, they pinned him to the sidewalk, handcuffed him and dragged him into a transport van, a scene captured on a bystander’s cell phone video and shown around the world.

Ms. Mosby said the police review, the autopsy and her own office’s investigation all point to homicide. The officers were booked on charges ranging from assault and manslaughter, carrying 10-year prison sentences, to second-degree “depraved heart” murder, which could put the van driver in prison for 30 years if convicted.

The cash-strapped city has paid millions of dollars in settlements in recent years for officers accused of misconduct and spent millions more defending officers.

Expensive settlements for police harassment, broken bones and abuses have been paid, but few police officers have been arrested, said Dr. Ray Winbush, director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University in Northeast Baltimore.

Demonstrators celebrate the announcement of six officers charged in the police-custody death of Freddie Gray before a curfew goes into effect May 1, in Baltimore.

Officers know the city will settle with victims but they won’t be fired, said Dr. Winbush. Suspensions with pay amount to a vacation for officers, he added.

The officers involved in the Gray incident should have been arrested because a spine doesn’t sever itself, clearly something illegal happened, he added.

Blacks have long complained of abusive policing in Baltimore and across the country. Their complaints have usually gone ignored or dismissed.

Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice applauded the decision to charge the officers. Ms. Mosby took the right action and is a strong Black woman, he said at a May 2 downtown rally.

Unlike other major cities grappling with police killings, Baltimore’s mayor, state’s attorney and police commissioner are Black, like the majority of the city’s population.

Three of the officers charged in the case, including the van driver, are also Black, according to online court records. The other three are listed as belonging to the broad category of “White, Caucasian, Asiatic Indian, Arab,” without further elaboration.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from West Baltimore, not far from where Mr. Gray was raised and arrested, said the neighborhood and others like it “have never seen a victory.”

“So many felt like the system had worked against them,” Rep. Cummings said. “As we approach the evening of our lives, we want to make sure our children have a better morning.”

In an impassioned statement delivered shortly after the charges were made public, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake warned that police misconduct will not be tolerated on her watch.

“To those of you who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me be clear,” she said, “there is no place in the Baltimore City Police Department for you.”

The decision to charge the officers brought celebrations throughout the city as residents felt finally there was hope for justice.

“What Marilyn Mosby has done is symbolic of how state’s attorneys around the country ought to conduct their independent investigations and let the information go forward, which allowed her to bring the indictments against the six police officers,” said State Senator Catherine Pugh, who represents Baltimore in the Maryland legislature.  

“I think we become a model for the injustices so many African American males in the country, and people of color, had extended to them by police officers,” she added.

Racial profiling and expensive mass incarceration become topics of discussion now, said Sen. Pugh. There is a need for more cultural diversity and psychological testing to show they can properly preserve and protect neighborhoods, she added.

“At the end of the day we want justice, Baltimore City police are very corrupt, it has been going on for years. This didn’t just start today,” said Massieka Holness, who was standing at the intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue, the center for protests and unrest, with a sign praising the state’s attorney.

“Marilyn Mosby, I am so proud of her. She is beautiful, she is intelligent. She’s articulate and she’s fearless. She makes me proud to be a Black woman. She is showing this world, guess what, all Black women or people in this state are not ghetto,” said the 32-year-old Baltimorean. “She is showing you don’t have to be in the clique or be scared to step out on your own when you know something is not right.”

There are 11 members of the state’s attorneys’ family who are involved in police work and the family was in Boston, said Min. Don Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 11.

The family was always very strong toward law enforcement and people who appreciated the Nation and Minister Louis Farrakhan, who was here many years ago, said Min. Don Muhammad of the Boston mosque.

The attacks from the Fraternal Order of Police are to be expected and every Black man should feel hurt and defend Black women, especially women in positions of authority usually held by men, he said.

Student Minister Carlos Muhammad of Muhammad Mosque No. 6 lauded the state’s attorney’s decision. Ms. Mosby made the right and courageous decision, said the Nation of Islam representative in Baltimore.

But, he added, “this is a small step toward justice.” There is still a long way to go and people have to stay interested and engaged, said Min. Muhammad.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)