Appearing in front of the War Memorial building in downtown Baltimore — just a block from the Police Department and City Hall — State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby emerged Friday as a formidable voice in the volatile nationwide dialogue about police brutality.
The 35-year-old Mosby, one of the nation's youngest urban prosecutors, not only brought the investigation into Freddie Gray's death to dramatic conclusion by charging six city police officers, she directly addressed hundreds of demonstrators who represented the boisterous — and sometimes violent — protests across Baltimore.
"I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace,'" Mosby, who has been in office for only four months, said Friday morning. "Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man."
Social media and national news outlets quickly hailed her as a "hero" for her steady, direct recitation of charges that included second-degree murder, manslaughter and assault. Local supporters joined in the praise for her quick action at a time when tensions were high and many feared that a decision absolving the officers would have triggered more violence.
The Rev. Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple called Mosby "a rock star today in the black community."
City Councilwoman Helen Holton said, "We have a young, black woman who stood up there and showed that she is about her business."
Mosby's business — prosecuting crimes in one of the nation's most violent cities — is never easy. And it is even tougher with a national and international audience, and a background that set Mosby up for criticism even before she announced charges.
She has ties to the Gray family's attorney, William H. "Billy" Murphy Jr., who donated $5,000 to her campaign and served on her transition committee. And her husband, Nick, serves on the City Council, representing the area where Gray died.
Just minutes before Mosby's news conference, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the local police union, called for an independent prosecutor to handle the Gray case. Among the union's criticisms were Mosby's relationship to Murphy and her marriage to a councilman.
"While I have the utmost respect for you and your office, I have very deep concerns about the many conflicts of interest presented by your office conducting an investigation in this case," police union President Gene Ryan wrote in a statement.
Mosby should be familiar with pressure from all sides, said Melba V. Pearson, president of the National Black Prosecutors Association.
"When you're an African-American prosecutor, you're going to have the scrutiny of your own people who will say, 'Now that you made it, what are you going to do?' " said Pearson, a prosecutor in Miami-Dade County, Fla. "And you're going to have law enforcement saying, 'Whose side are you on?'
"That's the challenge of being an African-American prosecutor. You walk a very fine line."
Prosecutors faced intense scrutiny when grand juries did not indict the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the officer who choked Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. Violent protests broke out twice in Baltimore in the past week, mirroring the looting that engulfed parts of Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis.
Asked Friday about her family's roots in law enforcement — which she pointedly mentioned in her news conference — Mosby said, "There are a certain number of individuals who usurp their authority and abuse the public trust. Those are the individuals who do a disservice to the really hard-working police officers who are sacrificing their lives."
She also spoke about just this scenario when she was campaigning in 2014.
"I come from five generations of police officers," Mosby said on Clarence M. Mitchell IV's radio show. "I know the sacrifices police officers make day in and day out away from their families and risking their lives."
She added that she would "absolutely" prosecute police officers when the facts warrant such action. "I'm going to go after individuals whether you're a police officer or a violent repeat offender. If you break the law and you believe you are above authority, then I will go after you."
During her campaign radio interview she provided additional information about how she would handle an investigation into police misconduct.
"Once that investigation is completed, that information will be turned over to me," she said. "I will also have a civilian review panel. They will have the same information. They will make a recommendation to me. I will then assess that recommendation. And if I believe we should be pursuing a police officer, I will indict that police officer and put it in front of grand jury."
But it is unclear what she meant by a civilian review panel and whether she followed that process in the Gray case. Her office declined to comment on the matter.
Kurt L. Schmoke, a former Baltimore state's attorney and mayor, has some idea what Mosby has faced, given the racial tensions at play as several white police officers were involved in the arrest of Gray, a 25-year-old African-American.
Schmoke, who was state's attorney from 1983 to 1987, said that with the Gray case set against so many other elements — a federal investigation, widespread media attention, the national focus on police actions against minorities — it "is a significant test of leadership" for Mosby and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, both Democrats.
"But I think both of them are up to the task," he said.
Schmoke recalled dealing with a racially tense prosecution in 1983 that involved a white Baltimore police officer, Daniel Shanahan, who shot and killed a black motorcyclist, Booker Lancaster. Schmoke is careful to note that this was long before cellphone photos and videos, multiple lawsuits involving police brutality, and a national furor over white police officers assaulting black men.
Schmoke held a news conference to announce that he was convening a grand jury and to explain how that process would allow the public to come forward with evidence.
"What I did to try to calm the tensions, I announced that rather than have the traditional police internal review of the matter that I would take it directly to the grand jury," Schmoke said. He said most residents do not have a full understanding of the criminal justice system and that he used the news conference to explain that a grand jury would "allow people to come and tell their stories under oath."
The grand jury did indict the officer, but when the case went to trial, the jury deadlocked. Six white jurors voted not guilty and six black jurors voted guilty, Schmoke said. "It showed the different perception of the police," he said.
The officer was ultimately acquitted in a retrial.
Del. Curt Anderson, chairman of Baltimore's House delegation, said the prosecution of the Gray case will test Mosby's first term.
"Very few people get this kind of exposure so soon," he said. "At my age of 66, it would test me as well."
Anderson said no one in Baltimore should be surprised that a death in police custody has put the city at the center of the debate about how police officers treat African-Americans.
"I expected there to be a Ferguson-type situation here," he said. "It had to happen here, the way police treat individuals."
A Baltimore Sun investigation revealed that since 2011 the city has paid more than $6 million in court judgments and settlements in lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct. The investigation also showed that some officers were involved in more than one lawsuit, and city officials did not have a comprehensive system for tracking misconduct.
Mosby's electoral victory in the 2014 Democratic primary over incumbent Gregg Bernstein took many political observers by surprise. After winning the general election against nominal competition in a predominantly Democratic city, she set up a 14-person transition committee that included Murphy.
Most observers did not see any conflict in Mosby handling the Gray case. Though Murphy donated to her campaign, the FOP also donated to Mosby.
"Is this a conflict of interest? Absolutely not," Mosby said Friday.
Anderson declined to say whether Mosby had conflicts because her husband represents the area where the incident occurred.
"It would be something I would have to take a look at," Anderson said. "That is something that should have been done before she started her investigation."
Murphy dismissed the question of a conflict. On Monday night at a news conference with Gray's family, Murphy said he and the relatives had "great hope" that Mosby would handle the investigation fairly.
"We don't want a rush to justice. We want an accurate fact-finding," he said.
Schmoke said the Baltimore legal community is so small that many friends find themselves on opposite sides of cases.
"For lawyers, someone who is your personal friend can end up being an adversary in court," he said. Such legal confrontations between friends happen "all the time."
"Professional ethics will govern that relationship," he said. "I don't think there's going to be any problem there."
Stokes agreed but said Mosby's relationship with Murphy will only increase the pressure on her.
"I don't think it would influence her," he said. Murphy "was one of her strongest supporters in her campaign. I think it can't help but play into everyone's thinking about this. Certainly Ms. Mosby and her team, given the relationship, would be absolutely meticulous in making sure the right decision is made."
Douglas Gansler, former attorney general and Montgomery County state's attorney, said prosecuting police officers is tricky because prosecutors work side-by-side with officers on cases.
"It's a difficult and unwanted position to be in for a state's attorney to have to investigate and potentially prosecute a police officer or officers in the department with whom they work with every day," Gansler said. "There's a natural tension and friction there that is not something a state's attorney looks for."
Prosecutors who are elected have to follow the law and then be able to fully explain why an investigation either leads to charges or does not.
"You have to do the right things for the right reasons in these highly charged cases," said Gansler, who led the nationally watched prosecution in the Maryland sniper cases. "The public and the press will have views on what you should or should not do, based usually on half-baked ideas.
"Her job is to resist that pressure from all sides."
Pearson of the National Black Prosecutors Association said Mosby should get used to the scrutiny with the national media camped out in Baltimore for the story.
"Now you have someone second-guessing every decision you make," she said. "It makes life a lot more difficult."
Prosecutors are duty-bound "to take the facts, examine them, measure them to the law," Pearson said. "Can I prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt? If so, I need to move forward. If not, then I don't need to charge them."
To answer the question of whose side she is on, Pearson said there is an easy answer: "I'm on the side of justice. Whatever color you are, if you did wrong I'm going to bring the full weight of the justice system on you."
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.
Marilyn J. Mosby
Husband: City Councilman Nick Mosby
Law school: Boston College Law School