Veteran in Mosby's office who objected to continuing prosecution in Gray case quits

Veteran prosecutor who objected to trying one of the Freddie Gray cases quits after charges dropped.

A veteran Baltimore prosecutor who objected to continuing the prosecution of a police officer charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray quit on Friday, two days after her boss dropped all of the charges in the case.

Lisa Phelps, a 15-year veteran prosecutor who led the state's attorney's office's training division, was assigned three months ago to try two of the cases against city police officers.

In recent weeks, she raised concerns over whether the trial of Officer Garrett Miller, which was set to begin last week, should go forward, according to sources close to Phelps.

State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby dropped charges last week against Miller, Officer William Porter and Sgt. Alicia White on the morning of a pretrial hearing in Miller's case. Three other officers had been acquitted after trials.

The state's attorney's office declined to comment on Phelps, citing a policy not to discuss personnel matters. In a memo obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Mosby announced Phelps' departure and praised her "storied" career.

Phelps also declined to comment. In addition to Miller, she also had been assigned to retry Porter in September. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

Mosby said she decided to drop the charges because the judge overseeing the trials was unlikely to convict the officers, and she attacked police detectives who she accused of undermining the case. Previously, prosecutors and defense attorneys had been barred by a gag order from commenting publicly about the cases.

Mosby said the criminal justice system is in need of reform and that she would pursue state legislation to give prosecutors a say in whether defendants can choose a bench trial.

She also said prosecutors need to be able to conduct independent investigations of police misconduct. In announcing charges in the Gray case last year, Mosby said her office did an independent investigation, but then she continued to rely on police detectives to make her case.

With each acquittal of an officer, pressure mounted to drop the charges. Police union officials have sharply criticized Mosby, calling the prosecution malicious and baseless. The union and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis also have defended the work of police detectives on the Gray case, saying they worked tirelessly and objectively.

Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow declined comment Thursday when asked to address whether Phelps had expressed reservations about the cases.

"You know, I'm not going to go into the details of what each prosecutor felt on a day-by-day basis. Lisa Phelps was part of this prosecution team from the very beginning, and remains part of this prosecution team," Schatzow told reporters.

"Everybody has moments where they question the witness, they question the legal theory, question something else. For us to start talking about work product conversations — that's not conducive. It's not how we run this office."

Mosby said in the staff memo that she appointed another veteran prosecutor, Sharon Holback, to take Phelps' place leading training efforts. Holback has been with the office for 33 years, including as a member of the original homicide unit created in 1997 and leading the forensic investigations unit in the early 2000s as DNA evidence became more prevalent.

"I truly believe that the trajectory of the office's future will be immeasurably brighter with Sharon there to mold our new prosecutors and clerks," Mosby wrote.

The memo did not address the reason for Phelps' departure.

Phelps had been an assistant state's attorney in Baltimore since 2001, and for years tried homicide cases. She was elevated to chief of the special victims unit in 2012, and was appointed head of training when Mosby took over in 2015.

On Monday, the state judicial nominating commission announced that Phelps was on a list to fill a vacancy on the District Court for Baltimore County.

Schatzow and Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe led a trial team that handled the first four trials of Porter, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Officer Edward Nero and Lt. Brian Rice.

Phelps and Assistant State's Attorney Sarah David were tapped in May to prosecute Miller as well as handle Porter's retrial. Miller, one of the officers who arrested Gray after chasing him near Gilmor Homes, was charged with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

Gray, 25, died after suffering severe spinal injuries in the back of a police transport van.

Both Miller and Porter were compelled to testify under immunity at the trials of their fellow officers, and new prosecutors were brought in as a "clean team" to ensure the officers' compelled testimony was not considered at their own trials. The unusual arrangement was designed to preserve the right of the officers to not incriminate themselves.

All three remaining cases were dropped Wednesday before a hearing at which the state's attorney's office would have been required to show Circuit Judge Barry Williams that the "clean team" had not been exposed to any compelled testimony.

Catherine Flynn, one of Miller's defense attorneys, told The Sun last week that she had subpoenaed the prosecutors under the belief that Schatzow may have improperly communicated with Phelps.

With the charges dropped, no such hearing took place.

Schatzow told reporters last week that the hearing had no bearing on the decision to drop the charges and that prosecutors would have had no problem with scrutiny. "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.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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