Prosecutors in Freddie Gray case maintain they had evidence to convict officers

Prosecutors in Freddie Gray case believe there was sufficient evidence to convict the Baltimore police officer

The prosecutors who unsuccessfully tried the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray defended the cases Thursday, saying they continue to believe they had enough evidence to convict them.

Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe met with reporters the day after prosecutors dropped the remaining three cases, following three acquittals and a hung jury trial.

The judge overseeing the cases, Barry Williams, was a former police misconduct prosecutor with the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

If a judge with that background could not convict the officers, Schatzow and Bledsoe were asked, did that indicate that the cases were flawed?

"No," Schatzow said. "If we had thought there wasn't, we wouldn't have gone forward with the cases. …. We re-examined the cases daily, but no, we never came to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence."

The comments came as the State's Attorney's Office spent a second day discussing the high-profile case, following 14 months in which they were prohibited from commenting due to a gag order imposed by the judge. The defense attorneys also spoke out Wednesday, saying the officers did nothing wrong.

State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby said last May that prosecutors had conducted a "comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation." At the trials, much of the evidence presented appeared to have been gathered by police, and in her first remarks after dropping the charges Mosby lamented the lack of an independent investigatory agency to deploy in such cases.

Prosecutors Thursday continued to assert that they had undertaken independent work, and did not simply make an independent judgment on the police evidence like all other criminal investigations.

Investigators from the State's Attorney's Office began working with police after Gray was first injured, meeting with police department investigators the next day and continuing as the agency appointed a 30-member task force. They canvassed the neighborhood, and took photos and videos.

"Investigators were out there every day, and they continued even when the task force was put in place, to assist the police in getting business videos and identifying CCTV camera footage that we wanted that had not been requested by BPD," Bledsoe said.

The decision to drop the charges came on the morning of a rare legal hearing to be held in the case of Officer Garrett Miller. Prosecutors were to face questions over whether they gleaned any evidence or strategic advantage from Miller's forced testimony in the trial of another officer in May.

A so-called "clean team" of prosecutors had been appointed to handle the case, along with a liaison to buffer them from Schatzow, Bledsoe as well as the defense. At Wednesday's hearing Miller's defense attorneys planned to put prosecutors on the stand to probe whether there were improper communications.

"My position was, Schatzow would be 'Patient Zero' of the taint," said Catherine Flynn, one of Miller's attorneys. "I would've taken the position that he wasn't allowed to have any communications with the clean team."

Schatzow acknowledged Thursday that he had communicated with the clean team on multiple occasions, but dismissed any suggestion that the hearing would not have gone well for the state or that it impacted the decision to drop the charges.

"We went to great lengths to make sure that the clean team was not tainted. And they were not tainted, and I would've been happy to testify about that," Schatzow said.

Some in the public continue to believe Gray's injuries were caused by being roughed up by officers during his arrest, with video showing him wailing and dragging legs as he was taken to a police transport van. An autopsy concluded that Gray suffered a high-impact injury to his neck inside the police van.

Schatzow affirmed that finding, saying the video shows Gray lift his head four to five inches off of the ground while being held down by officers, and supporting his weight as he was placed into the van.

"Those two things seem to be inconsistent with the injuries he suffered that caused his death," Schatzow said.

Schatzow also played down a dispute over the legality of the knife Gray was carrying when he was arrested. Police said it was an illegal switchblade; prosecutors said in announcing charges against the officers that it was legal and made his arrest improper.

"Our theory was that Mr. Gray was arrested before the knife was found," Schatzow said without mentioning the assertions in the statement of probable cause.

Overall, Schatzow said the criminal case was unable to answer all the questions the public may have about the case.

"A trial is not about answering broad questions — a trial is focused on whether the state can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the guilt of the defendant who is charged," Schatzow said. "The fact that people have lingering concerns and lingering questions simply reflects the limitations on the process to answer those questions."

jfenton@baltsun.com

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