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Mosby says she learned from mistakes of family members in law enforcement

Mosby says she learned from mistakes of family members in law enforcement
Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announces that criminal charges will be filed against Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray on May 1. (Andrew Burton, Getty Images)

When State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced criminal charges against six Baltimore police officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, she said it was not an indictment of the entire department. Five generations of her own family, she said, have worked in law enforcement.

On Wednesday, Mosby said she has learned from those relatives' mistakes, as well as their sacrifice.

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Mosby's father, a Boston police officer, was accused of robbing a drug dealer — and for a time dismissed from the department. Her mother, also an officer at the department, was disciplined several times and served a 45-day suspension for violating a substance-abuse policy. An uncle was dismissed after he failed drug tests.

"As a child, I personally observed their sacrifice and commitment to protecting my community. I learned at a very early age that everyone makes mistakes," Mosby said Wednesday in a statement. "I also learned about the importance of taking responsibility for the choices and mistakes that we make."

Since being thrust into the national spotlight, Mosby has repeatedly referred to generations of police officers in her family, many of whom worked for the department in Boston where she grew up. She has rarely discussed the troubles that dogged their careers.

"Everyone deserves a second chance at redemption, a chance to become a better person," Mosby said in her statement. "These are the values that I learned growing up, and these are the values I have brought to my work as a prosecutor when applying justice fairly and equally."

Several other members of Mosby's family waged legal battles against their law enforcement agencies. Her grandfather, a founder of a minority law enforcement association, alleged racial discrimination in a lawsuit against the Boston Police Department and lost. Another uncle sued the Massachusetts State Police, alleging discrimination, and was awarded $212,000 for back pay.

Mosby announced the charges against Baltimore police in May on the War Memorial steps, after a week of unrest in the city that prompted the governor to call in the National Guard and the mayor to impose a citywide curfew. Gray, 25, had died from spinal and other injuries sustained while in police custody, according to the medical examiner.

One officer is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder; three others are charged with manslaughter; and two others face lesser charges, including second-degree assault. All have pleaded not guilty.

Mosby has been criticized by Baltimore police union officials who say she rushed to judgment, and lauded by others who say she is seeking justice when, in incidents across the country, police have not been charged in the deaths of unarmed black men.

David Jaros, a former defense attorney who teaches law at the University of Baltimore, said issues with Mosby's relatives do not make her "incapable" of leading the prosecution of the six officers. Many prosecutors have dealt with family problems, he said, adding that those life experiences make prosecutors better.

"Every person brings their own experiences," Jaros said. "We ask them everyday to put aside their experiences and follow the law. "

The Fraternal Order of Police declined to comment. One attorney for the six officers declined to comment; the others did not respond.

Mosby took office in January. At 35, she is the youngest chief prosecutor in any big city in America. Her husband, Nick, is a councilman who represents the West Baltimore area where police arrested Gray.

She grew up in Dorchester, a working-class Boston neighborhood, where her grandparents helped raise her. Her grandfather, Prescott Thompson, was a founder of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers in 1968. He had joined the Boston Police Department in 1964, and both of her parents joined decades later.

Mosby's mother, Linda Thompson, retired from the department in 2008 after 20 years of service.

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In her career, she was disciplined on nine occasions and received a 45-day suspension for violating a substance-abuse policy, according to Lt. Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the department. Other discipline stemmed from not reporting for duty and neglect of duty, he said.

Thompson and other family members did not respond to requests for comment.

In 1989, Mosby's father, Alan James, and two other officers were accused of using their badges to rob suspected drug dealers of money and crack cocaine.

They faced charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and armed robbery, court records show. James was acquitted but fired from the department in 1991. He later got his job back when the department didn't allow him to question an individual during a disciplinary hearing, court records show.

Prescott Thompson, her grandfather, who has since died, lost an eye in 1971 when a car battery exploded inside a police garage where he had taken his cruiser for repairs. He went on disability for five years before accepting a retirement package in 1976, according to The Boston Globe.

He sought a reinstatement in 1986, but the police commissioner rejected the request. Thompson later sued for discrimination based on race and his handicap and lost, the Globe reported.

Her uncle, Preston Thompson, joined the department in 1979 and spent the bulk of his career as a patrol officer. In 1993, as a result of work-related injuries, Thompson requested a transfer to headquarters and became a dispatcher. He went on leave in January 2001.

Six months later, Thompson tested positive for cocaine in two department-required drug tests, according to court records.

He denied using cocaine after the first test, conducted with a hair sample, and claimed after the second positive result that the drug-testing process produced false positives among African-Americans, according to court records.

Thompson declined to sign a settlement agreement and accept a suspension, and he was discharged, according to court records. Prior to the positive tests, he had no discipline record. He appealed the termination, but a judge upheld the decision. He ultimately qualified for a disability retirement because of the injuries, court records show.

Another uncle, Richard Miller, sued the Massachusetts State Police after being fired. In that case, a federal jury awarded Miller $212,000 for back pay as part of a racial discrimination lawsuit. A federal judge later ruled in a separate proceeding that the agency didn't have to reinstate Miller, the Globe reported.

La Toya Robinson, who said she became friends with Mosby in fifth grade and has remained close, recalled that Mosby's relatives had an impact on both women as they grew up in Dorchester. Mosby stayed inside the house more often than other kids and didn't want to embarrass her relatives by causing trouble, Robinson added.

"She had a very good foundation," Robinson said. "We couldn't stay out all night. They're a pretty close-knit family."

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As a student, Mosby enrolled in a program that bused minority students from Boston to suburban high schools. Mosby graduated from Dover-Sherborn High School in 1998, where she and Robinson were two of three black girls in the school.

Robinson said Mosby became more focused on fighting injustice after a teenage cousin was fatally shot.

In the 1998 high school yearbook, the 93 members of the senior class were asked to predict where they would be in the future. It said Mosby would be "the next Malcolm X, MLK and Farrakhan all wrapped into one, with dreads, and preaching so the whole world can hear."

Robinson chuckled when reminded last month about the yearbook quote. "I was extremely proud of her," Robinson said. "She's been on this trajectory since she was 10. She made me proud to be a black woman."

Rochelle Ritchie, Mosby's spokeswoman, said Robinson wrote the yearbook quote and put it next to Mosby's name. Ritchie said that Mosby's critics would unfairly seize on the reference to Louis Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam.

Mosby and her office declined to comment further.

Mosby recently spoke at an NAACP empowerment forum and was profiled by Vogue and Cosmopolitan magazines last month. She often talks about her family, telling Vogue: "I know the majority of police officers are outstanding, dedicated, loyal public servants, just like my family."

In her statement Wednesday, she said: "I love my entire family and I am very proud of their service."

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