Freddie Gray case: Order in the court

We agree with the Freddie Gray case protesters, but we hope the judge ignores them (and us).

For the first several days after Freddie Gray's death in April, thousands of Baltimoreans peacefully took to the streets to protest his treatment by police and to demand broader changes in neighborhoods like the one where he lived. Whatever it was that led to the rioting that followed — outside agitators, misguided kids, craven opportunists, police who were too aggressive or not aggressive enough, or some combination of them all — the city's first instinct in the face of the outrage of Gray's death was not violence. Those who plan to gather outside the Circuit Court before and during tomorrow's first preliminary hearing in the cases against the six officers involved in Gray's arrest need to remember that. So do the police and city officials. We need to make sure that after facing months of criticism for the city's response to April's riots that officials' efforts to prepare for the worst this week don't turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The protesters who have announced their intentions to demonstrate outside the courthouse have legitimate points to make about the matters to be discussed this week and in hearings to come, and we happen to agree with them all. The charges against the six officers should not immediately be dismissed, State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby has done nothing that should force her to be removed from the case, and the trial or trials of the officers should take place in Baltimore City.

Defense attorneys have asked Circuit Judge Barry Williams to dismiss the charges against the officers, but we don't see grounds for him to do so, certainly not before the two sides have a chance to present evidence at trial. If there was one element of the case that might have qualified for dismissal, it was the initial charge of false imprisonment against the three officers who initially arrested Gray, but prosecutors chose not to present those counts to the grand jury, so they will not be part of the trial. The other charges, including reckless endangerment, assault, misconduct, manslaughter and depraved heart murder, vary from officer to officer, presumably based on prosecutors' understanding of their involvement in the arrest and transportation of Gray. Judge Williams can't very well throw them out without hearing the evidence.

Ms. Mosby's involvement in the case has been controversial since her initial announcement of charges against the officers, which was criticized by some as overly theatrical but lauded by others as having calmed the city and prevented more violence. There is likely truth in both views, but we can't see grounds for dismissing Ms. Mosby from the case simply because she read the statement of charges against the officers in a passionate way. Her association with the Gray family's attorney, who would likely handle any eventual civil case, is irrelevant to the criminal matter before the court. And a memo from her office asking whether the police would be interested in cooperating on an enhanced drug enforcement initiative in the area where Gray would later be arrested hardly makes her a crucial witness in the case, as defense attorneys contend. The people of Baltimore elected Ms. Mosby to be her prosecutor; she needs to be allowed to do her job.

The question of venue is a difficult one. It may well be difficult, as defense attorneys contend, to find 14 jurors without preconceived views of the case. But given all that has happened here in the last few months, there is no reason to believe a Baltimore juror would automatically be biased against the officers; the opposite might just as easily be true. Moreover, the case has generated such publicity that moving it to another jurisdiction in Maryland would not automatically solve the problem. At heart, this is a case about what standards Baltimore police officers should be held to performing their duties. That is something Baltimore residents should decide.

Nonetheless, we do not expect Judge Williams to be swayed by what we say or what the protesters outside the courthouse say. His job is not to gauge public opinion but to hear the evidence and follow the law. He cannot be guided by what the crowd wants or even the possibility that his rulings could spark unrest. His is an unenviable position, but a crucial one. Baltimore will best be served if the six officers receive a fair and vigorous trial in which they are presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. We wish for Judge Williams all the wisdom and clarity he needs to provide it.

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