Surely if there is one lesson about police and community relations that should by now be deeply embedded in the brains of Baltimore's elected officials, it's the need for transparency and disclosure. Before Freddie Gray ever entered the national spotlight, there was growing public concern over incidents of alleged police brutality and all those settlements paid out by the city to keep them out of court — and to keep the public in the dark.
City Hall's failure to be more forthcoming about these various allegations of police misconduct is one of the prime reasons why Baltimore was a veritable powder keg of suspicion and mistrust when Mr. Gray died in police custody. How many news conferences have taken place since those darks days of rioting, looting and arson following his death? Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Commissioner Anthony Batts and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby have all spent considerable time standing in front of cameras providing information about the Gray investigation, the charges it produced and the city's response to the protests and violence. As President Barack Obama said around the time those charges were filed, "What I think the people of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth. ... That's what people around the country expect."
Given those circumstances, it's more than a little disappointing that Ms. Mosby wants a judge to grant her a protective order blocking the release of Mr. Gray's autopsy by the state's medical examiner, a document routinely released by police even in the most gruesome or controversial of murder investigations in Baltimore and elsewhere. Why is she seeking to keep secret this and other "sensitive" documents in the case? She has said only that it is to "ensure a fair and impartial process for all parties involved."
How keeping an autopsy from being seen by anyone other than prosecutors and defense attorneys helps ensure a fair trial is a bit of a puzzler, particularly coming from a prosecutor who filed charges so swiftly after her own investigators presented her information about the incident and who loudly recited the charges along with a chronicle of the fateful events leading up to Mr. Gray's death to hundreds of demonstrators beginning with the words, "I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace.'" Ms. Mosby's opinion about the case was presented forcefully and unambiguously, so why can't the public hear about the facts behind her decision, too?
The Sun has joined 18 news organizations in contesting the gag order Ms. Mosby had previously sought in this case to prevent lawyers on both sides from discussing details in public. It is this newspaper's contention that justice is better served by full disclosure than by secrecy — in this and most other court proceedings. Whether the autopsy strengthens the state's case or weakens it is ultimately irrelevant. What ought to be guiding this decision is the necessity for the public to know the facts so that they might have full confidence in the criminal justice system and in whatever judgment is ultimately rendered on these six defendants.
Might release of the autopsy prejudice a judge or jury pool? This is information that will eventually be presented at trial anyway, and whatever is printed on the page will still be there unchanged one month from now, six months from now or two years from now. Surely all the speculation that one can find flying about the Internet these days about every aspect of this case from "rough rides" to traffic-stopping protests in Baltimore and allegations of "blue flu" behavior by police is far worse. This is a scientific analysis we're talking about, not some second-hand testimony that deserves to be ruled inadmissible.
No wonder at least one member of the defense team is suggesting that the prosecutor's explanation might be "disingenuous" given that it's the defendants' lawyers who are about to see the report for the first time — and will potentially be prevented from sharing it. When such documents are not made public, all that's available to those who wish to know more about this important case is speculation. That leaves the public in the dark, potentially fearing the worst and distrusting the city's leadership, police and prosecutors — which is precisely how Baltimore found itself in this situation in the first place.