Opinion: Mosby was right to file charges, right to drop them

Marilyn Mosby was right to file charges last year and is right to drop them now.

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s decision to pursue charges against the officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest was the right one. His treatment and the circumstances surrounding his fatal injury while in custody raised serious questions about the legal standards to which we hold police, and the evidence warranted the kind of open airing that can only happen in court. Her decision today to drop all charges against the three remaining officers was also the right one. Judge Barry Williams’ thorough and dispassionate explanations of his not-guilty judgments in the cases of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Edward Nero made clear that the evidence the state presented was insufficient to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The remaining officers’ cases presented no substantially new circumstances or legal issues. Dropping charges in cases Ms. Mosby could have had no expectation she would win was the responsible, ethical thing to do.

Many in the community will surely be disappointed that Gray’s death led to no criminal consequences for anyone. He was treated badly, and he wound up dead, and surely someone must be responsible, right? Had Ms. Mosby declined to take on these cases in the first place — as so many prosecutors in similar situations around the country have done — we have little doubt that an inchoate sense of injustice would have threatened to spark more violent unrest. But the trials forced us all to closely examine what is known and unknown about the circumstances surrounding Gray’s death, with the result that reaction to the acquittals has been calm and thoughtful. For all the invective the Baltimore police union has directed toward Ms. Mosby over what it calls her “malicious” prosecution of the officers, surely the city’s rank and file must recognize that the process of these trials has helped rather than hurt the cause of repairing the rift between the police and the community.

Ms. Mosby’s decision has one other important effect. There is now no impediment to the Police Department’s internal review of the officers actions. As The Sun’s Catherine Rentz and Yvonne Wenger reported Sunday, officers from Montgomery and Howard counties are already conducting extensive investigations into the three officers who have been acquitted, and the process of evaluating the actions of the other three can now begin. Judge Williams’ decisions made clear that the state presented insufficient evidence for a criminal conviction, but they by no means absolved the officers of potential violations of department policies. Given the inter-related nature of the criminal cases, Commissioner Kevin Davis might well have been reluctant to make a final disposition in any of the internal disciplinary proceedings for fear of prejudicing any of the future trials, which were scheduled to stretch well into the fall. Now he faces no such impediment.

After months of being forced by a judicial gag order to hold her tongue, Ms. Mosby came out swinging in a news conference this morning, accusing some members of the police department of effectively sabotaging the investigation into the officers involved in Gray’s death. At the very least, there is reason to question just how forthcoming were the officers who witnessed Gray’s arrest and treatment in the police van. We urge Ms. Mosby to make a full report of her concerns to Mr. Davis, and we expect the commissioner will investigate them thoroughly. Neither he nor the city can afford elements in the police department who would be any less impartial in a case involving fellow officers than they are in any other.

At a time when police-community relations are at a breaking point across the nation, with fear and apprehension on both sides, Baltimore is in a better place than it was 15 months ago. Ms. Mosby highlighted an important series of advances since then, many of them directly tailored to prevent another case like Gray’s. Police are being equipped with body cameras. Vans like the one in which Gray was injured have been retrofitted and outfitted with cameras as well. The Police Department has issued a new and far more detailed use of force policy that emphasizes de-escalation. Department policy now ensures that officers call for a medic when a detainee requests one. A software upgrade ensures that officers can no longer claim not to have read departmental general orders. The Department of Justice is poised to issue a report on the department’s policies and practices that is expected to lead to substantial additional reforms. And the trials themselves have proved that we as a city take the issue of police violence seriously and will pursue criminal charges when warranted. Indeed, even as these cases were dropped, city prosecutors were in court pursuing an attempted murder case against an officer who is accused of shooting an unarmed man in 2014, the first such case the city has seen in eight years.

At the outset of these trials, the Gray family’s attorney said justice didn’t mean a particular outcome, it meant that the officers would be held to the same standards of due process that Gray was denied. Ms. Mosby provided that. Now it’s up to the rest of us to produce the kind of lasting, systemic justice necessary to ensure Baltimore never experiences something like this again.

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