Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3 President Lt. Gene Ryan says he did not authorize two gloating tweets the union sent out over the weekend in the wake of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr.'s acquittal on charges related to Freddie Gray's death. As soon as he found out about them, he said, he ordered them deleted. That might be enough explanation to forgive the indiscretion if the tweets did not fit neatly in a pattern of statements from the FOP casting police as the victims in the Gray case.
One tweet, sent Friday night, showed a picture of actor Leonardo DiCaprio making a toast, with text reading, "Here's to the Baltimore 6 defense team, the FOP and Detective Taylor" — references to the six officers charged in Gray's death and Detective Dawnyell Taylor, whose disagreement with prosecutors over the Gray investigation led to an explosive turn on the witness stand earlier this month. The second, posted Saturday morning, contained an image taken from a New York police union newsletter cover from October showing State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby with the text, "The Wolf That Lurks."
The publication in question takes the rather outrageous tack that "The death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody in April 2015 is a glaring testament to the uneven playing field on which police officers now find themselves." That's right, the injustice here is not that a 25-year-old man who was doing nothing wrong wound up dead after a ride in a police van, it's that prosecutors would seek to hold the officers involved accountable. The piece goes on to call former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts "cowardly, possibly even treasonous" for his handling of last April's riots.
Lieutenant Ryan can disavow the tweets, but the sentiments they convey are of a piece with those he and other union leaders have been advancing for more than a year. When protests over Gray's death began, Mr. Ryan criticized the ministers leading the marches for being quick to "crucify" the officers before the investigation was complete. A day later, he called the protesters a "lynch mob." As arrests plummeted and violence spiked last June, Mr. Ryan opined that "police are more afraid of going to jail for doing their jobs properly than they are of getting shot on duty."
And even today, when distancing himself from the weekend tweets during an appearance on WBAL-AM's "C4 Show," Mr. Ryan said, "These trials are hindering the ability for the Baltimore Police Department to protect the community for which they serve because it's unfair due process for political agendas." Last week, he accused Ms. Mosby's office of "malicious" prosecution.
Granted, recent revelations raise questions about the genesis of the charges against the officers. An affidavit in a civil case from a top city sheriff's deputy indicated that department had no role in prosecutors' investigation of Gray's death, contrary to what Ms. Mosby said at the time. And case notes from Ms. Taylor provided to The Sun last week indicate that the detective believed prosecutors had her provide misleading or incorrect information to a grand jury, though the notes do not indicate what she disagreed with. Those reports demand a response from Ms. Mosby's office once it is freed from the gag order in these cases.
But making Detective Taylor out to be a hero in this case, as Friday's tweet does, grossly overstates the importance of her testimony. In an unusual legal turn, she was allowed on the stand as a defense witness to testify that Dr. Carol Allan, who performed the autopsy on Gray, had at one point told her that she regarded his death as an accident, in contrast to the doctor's own statements on the witness stand. But Ms. Taylor's testimony proved irrelevant; Judge Barry Williams concluded that even taking the testimony of the prosecution's expert medical witnesses at face value, there was no proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Goodson either intentionally caused Gray's injuries or failed to get medical assistance when the need for it was clear.
It would be difficult, though, to overstate the potential damage that could come from the two tweets. They frustrate the efforts of the police department to repair its relations with the community and state's attorney's office, damage Baltimore can't afford at a time when violence of all kinds is rampant throughout Baltimore, ranging from the killing last week of Gray's friend, Donzell Canada, to the murder this weekend of the Baltimore rapper Lor Scoota and the alleged assault on Detective Taylor during an encounter with dirt bikers. Police Commissioner Kevin Davis was correct to call the tweets "inappropriate" and "insensitive," and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young was right that merely deleting them isn't enough. The city deserves an apology not just for the tweets but for the pattern of rhetoric they reflect. Nothing related to Freddie Gray's death is cause for celebration, and not-guilty verdicts are no validation for a police department viewed by far too many as enemies rather than protectors.