Charges dropped, Freddie Gray case concludes with zero convictions against officers

Charges against three remaining officers dropped; no charges stick against six officers in Freddie Gray case.

Prosecutors dropped all charges Wednesday against three Baltimore police officers accused in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, bringing to an end one of the highest-profile criminal cases in the city's history with zero convictions.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby acknowledged the long odds of securing convictions in the remaining cases following the acquittals of three other officers on similar though more serious charges.

In a hearing Wednesday meant to start the trial of Officer Garrett Miller, prosecutors dropped their cases against him, Officer William Porter and Sgt. Alicia White. Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, who had acquitted the other officers, was expected to preside over the remaining trials as well.

After the most recent acquittal and "a great deal of thought and prayer," Mosby said, she resolved to drop the remaining charges. Mosby stood by her decision to bring the charges, pointing out that the medical examiner's office ruled Gray's death a homicide and that it's her job as the city's top prosecutor to seek justice.

"It's something that I've been grappling with for some time," Mosby said of her decision to end the prosecution, during an interview with The Baltimore Sun. "It's not something that was overnight."

Attorney Ivan Bates, who represents White and spoke on behalf of the defense teams, described the past year as a "nightmare" for the officers, who did not speak. He reiterated the defense argument that the officers didn't have anything to do with Gray's death, which they have characterized as a tragic accident.

"Not one of these officers woke up wanting to do anything negative to anyone," Bates said.

Gray's death has reverberated across Baltimore and the country at a time of national debate over the deaths of young black men in altercations with police. Gray, 25, died of severe neck injuries suffered in the back of a police van. He'd been shackled and handcuffed, but not secured in a seat belt.

Mostly peaceful protests erupted in Baltimore and lasted for days following his death. Then, on the day of his funeral, rioting, looting and arson broke out — and images of Baltimore in chaos were broadcast to an international audience.

Mosby charged the six Baltimore officers days later with offenses ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder to manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

The case pitted Mosby against police, and their verbal sparring Wednesday raised questions about their ability to cooperate going forward. The Fraternal Order of Police accused Mosby of pursuing a malicious and wrong-headed prosecution, while she accused police investigators of sabotage.

The case proved costly for the city.

The state's attorney's office and Police Department, which bought riot gear and paid officers overtime in anticipation of protests, spent an estimated $7.4 million on the trials, city officials said Wednesday. In addition, the city reached a $6.4 million settlement last year with Gray's family.

Under the broad theory of the case, the prosecution argued that the officers acted unreasonably, willfully disregarding their training and general orders, when they didn't secure Gray in a seat belt in the back of a police transport van and failed to get him medical help.

Prosecutors said those decisions led to Gray's death. They also argued that the officers had no probable cause to stop Gray and that Goodson, the van's driver, had given Gray a "rough ride."

All of the officers pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys argued that they acted reasonably and professionally and that the prosecution had no evidence to support the charges.

Williams, a former city prosecutor who investigated police misconduct for the U.S. Department of Justice, repeatedly questioned the legal theories put forth by prosecutors.

The trial of Porter ended with a hung jury and a mistrial in December, and Williams acquitted Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson and Lt. Brian Rice after bench trials in May, June, and July, respectively.

Porter had been scheduled to be retried in September, and White had been scheduled to be tried in October.

At the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing, which lasted minutes, Williams lifted a standing gag order that had barred everyone involved in the case from speaking about it publicly. That led to dueling news conferences.

Mosby headed to the West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray had been arrested and stood on the sidewalk to explain her decision and to rail against the criminal justice system.

Mosby blamed a number of factors for her inability to secure a conviction, including having to rely on the Police Department to investigate its own and not having a say in whether the cases proceeded in front of a judge or jury. Under Maryland law, defendants get to pick a judge or jury.

"For those that believe I'm anti-police, it's simply not the case. I'm anti-police brutality," she said. "The only loss and the greatest loss in all of this was that of Freddie Gray's life.

"As a mother, the decision not to proceed on these trials, these remaining trials, is agonizing," she added. "However, as a chief prosecutor elected by the citizens of Baltimore, I must consider the dismal likelihood of conviction at this point."

She noted the "countless sacrifices" of her prosecutors in the case, including Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe, and said her office will continue to "fight for a fair and equitable justice system for all."

Gray's stepfather, Richard Shipley, said family members "stand behind Marilyn and her prosecuting team, and my family is proud to have them represent us."

"It was wrong what they did to my son," said Gray's mother, Gloria Darden.

Shortly thereafter, the officers, their defense attorneys and leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents the officers and paid for their defense, held their own news conference.

"Everybody wanted to find out what happened to Freddie Gray," Bates said. "The Baltimore City Police, they did the investigation, and they said it was an accident. ... The Baltimore City state's attorney's office had an opportunity to do an in-depth investigation, and they did not."

Lt. Gene Ryan, the union president, said, "Justice has been done." He also described Mosby's comments at her news conference as "outrageous" and "uncalled for."

Ryan said he expects the six officers to return to work, though all of them face possible discipline. Administrative investigations into their actions on the day of Gray's arrest and death are being conducted by the Montgomery County Police Department, with assistance from Howard County police. Once those investigations conclude, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis would decide any discipline.

Davis, in a statement issued Wednesday, called Mosby's decision to drop the charges "a wise one" that will help the city heal and move forward.

"As the trials end and this chapter in Baltimore's history closes, it is important that we collectively resolve to direct our emotions in a constructive way to reduce violence and strengthen citizen partnerships," Davis said. "Any motives that fall short of that are counterproductive and inconsistent with the values of Baltimoreans."

The conclusion of the Gray case comes at a pivotal moment for Baltimore and police-community relations.

The Justice Department is expected to release soon the results of a wide-ranging civil-rights investigation into the Police Department. Such reviews in other cities have resulted in increased spending on policing and findings of shortcomings and misguided practices.

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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