What's Next? Six police officers have been charged in the death of Freddie Gray but convictions and the trial venue are far from certain

City Paper

It looked like smart planning: the announcement of criminal charges against police on a Friday morning, on May Day, as the antidote to the simmering unrest and growing cynicism of thousands of demonstrators against police violence.

But the galloping pace of events in the Freddie Gray investigation was not planned. Cheers and gasps erupted from the edge of the media mob pressed in at the steps of the War Memorial Building Friday morning, May 1, as State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby read the entire charging document and the individual charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s arrest. People nearby cheered as the news spread but, according to an insider account published the next day in The Baltimore Sun, the police who did the investigation into Gray’s untimely death were stunned by the quick announcement, which came a day after they turned over the results of their investigation—an investigation that is in no way finished, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts emphasized—to Mosby.

Also caught off guard, according to media reports: Attorney William “Billy” Murphy, the Gray family’s lawyer. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake got word of the charges about a half-hour before the world did.

“These charges I have announced are a matter of public record,” the state’s attorney said. She emphasized that all of the officers are innocent until proven guilty, but the tone of the charging document itself sounded like a rally speech, full of compounding outrages.

Mosby detailed what happened in the 45 minutes between Gray’s initial eye contact with police the morning of April 12 and his arrival at the hospital, where he died a week later from his injuries, which included a partly severed spinal cord. She noted that the knife the officers found in Gray’s pocket was not a switchblade, and isn’t illegal in Maryland, and that the officers illegally arrested Gray with no probable cause.

Mosby described Officer Caesar R. Goodson, Jr.’s multiple stops to check on Gray, and noted that at one point Officer William G. Porter asked Gray if he needed help, and “Mr. Gray indicated, at least twice, that he was in need of a medic,” but “at no point, did either of [the officers] restrain Mr. Gray per the General Orders, nor did they render or request medical assistance.”

She described the officers’ conduct as “grossly negligent,” noting that they even escorted the second passenger who was in the wagon into the Western District police station before attending to Gray. At this point, Gray was in cardiac arrest and was no longer breathing, so he was rushed to Shock Trauma. The Maryland State Medical Examiner called his death a homicide due to his injuries while unrestrained in the wagon.

“I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace.’ Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man,” Mosby said. “I urge you to channel the energy peacefully as we prosecute this case.”

Officer Goodson, who drove the wagon in which an un-seat-belted Gray was mortally injured during his April 12 arrest, was charged with second-degree depraved heart murder, which carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison. Sgt. Alicia D. White, the second-highest-ranking officer on the scene, faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years.

As news of the charges spread people cheered, car horns honked, and some said the charges were just a small first step toward justice. Jay Morrison, of the YMC Community Coalition, stood behind the swarm of press with a megaphone, pleading for empathy with the African-American community. “You see it now . . . this is the black experience. This is what we go through,” he said. “The American people and global citizens have to awaken and come to the realization and rally with the African-American community.”

Warrants were issued for all six officers, Mosby said. Booking photos appeared by day’s end. Goodson, 45, who joined the department in 1999, faces the most charges. Along with the “depraved heart murder” charge, which is a charge more typically used in hit-and-run vehicular-homicide cases, he faces manslaughter, second-degree assault, manslaughter by vehicle (gross negligence), manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence), and misconduct in office.

White, 30, who joined the department in 2010, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and misconduct in office.

Lt. Brian W. Rice, 41 and a city cop since 1997, faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office, and false imprisonment.

Officer Porter, 25 and a city cop since 2012, is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and misconduct in office.

Officer Edward M. Nero, 29, and officer Garrett E. Miller, 26, both of whom joined the department in 2012, each face two counts of second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office, and one count of false imprisonment.

Mosby said the evidence underlying the charges would not be released in order to protect the integrity of the judicial process, and she admonished the leaks from police sources of parts of the investigation.

Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, decried what he calls a “rush to judgment” in the charges. The police union is raising money to defend the officers, and Ryan sent an open letter asking Mosby to recuse herself from the case and appoint a special prosecutor, citing close ties between her office and a prominent reporter, Mosby’s marriage to City Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents the area where Gray was killed, and Murphy’s service on Mosby’s transition team after her election last fall.

WBAL’s Jayne Miller, the region’s most prominent and best investigative TV reporter, lives with Janice Bledsoe, who is the Deputy State’s Attorney of Criminal Justice, one of the leaders of the Freddie Gray investigation. Miller referred City Paper’s questions about her and her partner’s rules about confidential information to WBAL general manager Dan Joerres.

“I think the letter makes a lot of assumptions,” Joerres says in a phone conversation. “Our news department operates at the highest ethical standards, as does every department at WBAL.”

He would not say that WBAL had a rule against Miller receiving tips from her significant other. Of Miller, he says, “her 30-plus years of reporting in the city of Baltimore speaks for itself.”

Questions about whether Bledsoe has leaked information to WBAL previously may have got her fired by State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein, Marilyn Mosby’s predecessor. Her job then? Prosecuting dirty cops.

Or it might have been that Bernstein and his wife, Sheryl Goldstein, were too close to a high-ranking officer, Robert Quick, who Bledsoe wanted to investigate and prosecute for theft. Bernstein fired Bledsoe and personally cleared that officer in the criminal matter.

Miller had questioned The Sun’s coverage of the events surrounding Gray’s death when she found that a Sun reporter, Justin George, had been granted exclusive access to the police department’s internal investigation on the condition that he not reveal the details until a later date.

Miller thought the paper’s access to inside information could put its other reporters in a position of conflict, but events mooted that concern.

George’s inside look, published Saturday,  made much of the surprise the 30 investigating officers felt as they watched Mosby’s press conference on a video monitor as it happened a few hundred yards from their office.

Baltimore is rife with such disagreements about who has conflicts of interest. Mosby rehired Bledsoe, who worked on her campaign, soon after she was elected. Mosby also purged a number of prosecutors, some in the middle of criminal trials.

And now that Baltimore has avoided weekend riots and civil unrest, the future looks cloudy.

“There is a genuine concern here about whether the officers can get a fair trial in Baltimore City,” says Martin Schreiber, a former editor of the Maryland Law Review whose law practice includes criminal defense and civil suits against police. “And, but, with the exception of Prince George’s County, all the other jurisdictions are majority white. And to move this from a majority-black to a majority-white county will cause a lot of outrage.”

As a cautionary tale, some pundits have pointed to another high-profile case alleging police misconduct: Rodney King. That trial was moved from Los Angeles County to Simi Valley, a mostly white suburb in adjacent Ventura County. There a jury of 10 white people, one Latino, and one Asian failed to convict any of the accused officers, which led to the Los Angeles riots.

Schreiber says it will be tough for any judge to approve a similar change in venue for the Freddie Gray case. “The judge who is going to have to make that decision stands for election in Baltimore.”

So do the Mosbys—both Marilyn and Nick. So does the mayor. Justice may be blind, but in Baltimore, the people who operate the justice system have their eyes wide open, and the eyes of the world are still on them. 

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