Marilyn Mosby hears criticism from police, activists

Marilyn Mosby finds herself being shouted down by protesters criticizing her handling of some cases

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby rocketed to national fame last year when she charged six city officers in the death of Freddie Gray — a move that won her a reputation as a tough-on-police reformer.

But during public appearances in recent weeks, the 36-year-old prosecutor has found herself being shouted down by protesters criticizing her handling of some cases and what they say is a lack of transparency.

She further angered activists this week when she announced that her office wouldn't reopen the case of Tyrone West, the Baltimore man who died in police custody after a traffic stop in 2013.

Mosby, who took office in January 2015, defended her actions in an interview with The Baltimore Sun.

"I think we've been very transparent with our administration when it comes to accountability and applying justice fairly and equally to everybody," she said. She said she is prohibited from discussing decisions in pending cases.

She added a request for protesters: "As a mother of a 5- and 7-year-old, I would appeal to them to stop coming to my house, because it's scaring my children."

The city's top prosecutor walks a tightrope: She has to balance working with police and investigating police misconduct, and her pledges to reform the criminal justice system with locking up criminals as violence in the city continues to spike.

She's now getting criticism from both police and the community. The police union complained this month that her office had treated officers who shot an armed father and son like criminals. More recently, activists complained that she had not questioned police in shooting investigations before clearing them.

A group of activists, who say Mosby embraced their support when she ran for the job in 2014, say she now needs to be more open to discussing decisions around cases.

"She very tightly controls what community response she receives," Christopher Comeau, 28, said outside a forum on public safety Wednesday night.

"It's difficult to live up to the expectations and the hopes that she built up in this city — when she stood on those steps [of the War Memorial to announce charges in the Gray case] and said that justice will be served — when she doesn't make herself available to unfiltered criticism."

The protesters have focused on the prosecution of Keith Davis Jr., a 24-year-old man who was shot by police in Northwest Baltimore last June after he allegedly robbed a hack driver. He has maintained his innocence, and supporters were encouraged when a jury rejected all but one of the 21 charges he faced.

Still, that one conviction, on a firearms charge, carries a mandatory five years in prison, and he has since been charged in a killing that occurred the day he was shot.

Police say ballistics matched a gun found on Davis to the one used kill 22-year-old Pimlico Race Track security guard Kevin Jones. Davis' supporters question the evidence.

Some activists, encouraged by Mosby's decision to bring charges in Gray's death, have urged her to reopen controversial deaths in police custody that occurred before she took office.

City Councilman Warren Branch, who chairs the council's public safety committee, called on Mosby last year to give a fresh look at three high-profile cases — including the death of West.

West, 44, died in July 2013 after a traffic stop in Northeast Baltimore. Police say he fought with officers, and the medical examiner's office ruled that he died because he had a heart condition that was exacerbated by the struggle and the summer heat. West's family says officers beat him to death.

An independent panel determined that the officers did not use excessive force, but it found that they did not follow basic policies and made tactical errors that "potentially aggravated the situation."

Mosby said this week that a review by her office turned up nothing "that would contradict the conclusion of the prior administration."

"I have no intention to reopen that case," she said. She said she would revisit the case if new evidence arose.

West's sister, Tawanda Jones, who has been protesting his death every Wednesday for three years, said she is working to find such evidence.

"I want to see what she'll do," Jones said.

The activist group Baltimore Bloc slammed the decision: "It was the family of #TyroneWest that got [former State's Attorney Gregg] Bernstein out of office (& @MarilynMosbyEsq in) & it will be the same family to take her out," the group tweeted.

Mosby left a community event in Northeast Baltimore abruptly Monday evening after activists began shouting questions. Video footage shows her staff grabbing Comeau after he made a move toward the stage.

He said was not rushing the stage but trying to take a seat on a nearby step.

Mosby appeared Wednesday night at the Impact Hub, a co-working and event space in Station North, for what was to be a discussion of public safety.

She arrived with three security guards and other staff members, who asked if the protesters could be removed before the event. Organizers declined but asked the activists to be respectful.

Mosby showed the crowd a video that walked through the accomplishments of her first year in office, highlighting high-profile convictions and her community programs. Then she spent about 40 minutes discussing her priorities as state's attorney before inviting questions from the audience.

Abdul Salaam, a Northeast Baltimore man who was awarded $70,000 by a civil jury recently over claims that he was assaulted by police in 2013, asked Mosby what she was doing to hold officers with repeat misconduct complaints accountable.

Mosby appeared to make an oblique reference to the charges against the officers in the Gray case.

"I think what we're attempting to do — I think the message has been sent," she said. "And I still get the backlash."

Davis' fiancee then stood up and referred to Mosby's remarks about reforming the criminal justice system.

"You're talking about the community issues, but you're a part of the problem," Kelly Holsey said. "You're holding these men … under charges and evidence that you don't have, anticipating that they will take a [plea] deal. …

"You talk about ripping families apart — you keep these men locked up with little to no evidence."

Davis' supporters say they have been calling, writing and visiting the state's attorney's office to speak with prosecutors about his case.

"We've attempted on multiple occasions, in a very civil manner," said Payam Sohrabi, 26, Baltimore Bloc organizer. "They know exactly who we are, and they're not making any genuine effort to be accountable or be transparent about this investigation. What are we left to believe, and how are we supposed to go about asking these questions?"

At Monday night's event, Sohrabi asked Mosby how police officers could be cleared in investigations without giving statements, as happened in the Davis case and others.

"Do you know anything about the Fifth Amendment? I hope you do," Mosby said. "Any subject of a pending criminal investigation does not have to speak to [investigators]. The state's attorney's office is still required to conduct an independent investigation. … And what I'm telling you is that took place."

Mosby faced criticism from the other side when the police union said prosecutors had officers videotaped refusing to answer questions after the shooting of the father and son at Greenmount and North avenues.

In the past, the union's longtime attorney said, a discussion between prosecutors and his office was enough when an officer decided against speaking to investigators.

In a biting statement, the union said Mosby and her "underlings … continually flaunt what they believe to be their prowess, despite the fact that time and time again the incompetency of their actions [bears] no resemblance to reality."

After Mosby left Wednesday's event, one of her assistant state's attorneys sat with Holsey in a side room and heard her concerns.

"I certainly understand and appreciate the emotional impact that something like this could have on a family," Mosby said. But, she said, "the individual has been convicted, and is now charged with murder."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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