Baltimore prosecutors to seek sanctions against police officers' defense team

Michael Schatzow
Michael Schatzow (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

Prosecutors plan to seek sanctions against the defense attorneys for six Baltimore police officers charged in Freddie Gray's death, accusing them of "factual mendacity and legal malarkey."

"Courts may justifiably recoil when a lawyer refers to opposing counsel as liars, and the State does not do so here, but what term is a lawyer to use to describe their deliberate falsehoods?" Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow wrote in a motion filed in Baltimore Circuit Court.


Prosecutors accuse the defense of abusing the subpoena process when it obtained the cellphone records of an assistant state's attorney. They also contend the defense crossed the line by accusing prosecutors of "judge shopping" to obtain a search warrant.

Schatzow's colorfully written motion begins with a quote from Winston Churchill: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."


Rochelle Ritchie, spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, declined to comment. She reiterated the office's stance that it "will litigate this case in the courtroom, not in the media."

The tone of court filings in the Gray case has become increasingly contentious. Defense attorneys lobbed their own accusations this week — saying prosecutors either failed to turn over evidence as required or lied about conducting a thorough investigation into Gray's death.

The defense said the huge trove of evidence provided by prosecutors during discovery last month was "completely devoid of any information obtained during the course of the State's investigation."

Mosby has said her office conducted an independent investigation separate from the police probe. Prosecutors have said that they turned over all the evidence that the defense is entitled to under the state's discovery laws.

Jose Anderson, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore, said the legal jostling will only continue — and that the volatile tone struck by both sides is not surprising in such a high-profile case.

"Both groups of lawyers are fighting over every inch of ground and every advance they can achieve the closer we come to a trial date," he said. "That should be expected to continue. It is part of how tough cases are tried."

Kurt Nachtman, a former city prosecutor who has been watching the case, also noted that the legal arguments are becoming more antagonistic.

"Every motion that has been filed in this case, we've seen an increasing tone of hostility," Nachtman said.

Gray, 25, died in April after he sustained a severed spinal cord and other injuries in police custody. His death sparked widespread protests against police brutality and rioting on the day of his funeral.

Judges have broad discretion in determining how to sanction a lawyer, according to legal experts.

In general, lawyers sanctioned for improper behavior could be fined or publicly reprimanded. Sanctions against lawyers could also have implications for a court case, such as a judge deciding to exclude evidence or — in the most extreme cases — to dismiss a case.

"Judges do occasionally impose sanctions on parties in a case," Nachtman said. "People can ask for it, but it's very infrequently given."


He added: "I don't know anything the defense team has done in this case that could rise to the level of sanctions."

Attorneys for the officers did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Schatzow didn't provide details on the state's plans to seek sanctions, saying he would do so in a future motion.

In his motion, Schatzow objected to the defense team's attempt to suppress evidence obtained when prosecutors searched the officers' departmental cellphones.

In arguing that the evidence should be tossed out, the defense accused the prosecution of "judge-shopping" to get the search warrant for the cellphones approved.

"The Defendants' Motion to Suppress is a baseless, scurrilous attack on the integrity of a distinguished Circuit Court Judge and a well-respected Assistant State's Attorney," Schatzow wrote.

Schatzow also focuses in his motion on the defense's obtaining the cellphone records of an unidentified prosecutor — in what he calls a "shocking abuse" of the subpoena process.

"The purpose of this abuse can only be seen as an obvious attempt to embarrass and intimidate a prosecutor from performing his duties, just as the purpose of the Motion can only be to entice newspapers to print lies in a continuing effort to poison the jury pool and strengthen defense preliminary motions," Schatzow wrote.

All six police officers have pleaded not guilty. Their trial is scheduled for October.

The police van driver, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder. Sgt. Alicia D. White, Lt. Brian W. Rice and Officer William G. Porter are charged with manslaughter. Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault.


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