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Baltimore police union knocks Mosby on bench trial proposal

Baltimore police union President Gene Ryan, pictured in this file photo, criticized a proposal by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to give prosecutors a say in whether a criminal defendant can have a bench trial.
Baltimore police union President Gene Ryan, pictured in this file photo, criticized a proposal by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to give prosecutors a say in whether a criminal defendant can have a bench trial. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore's police union is criticizing a proposal by State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby to give prosecutors a say in whether a criminal defendant can have a bench trial.

Union president Gene Ryan said Friday that every judge in the city and state "should be offended" at the idea, put forth by Mosby following a city judge's decision to acquit three of the officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. Prosecutors ended up dropping the remaining cases.

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"What Mrs. Mosby is doing is essentially questioning the integrity of every judge in the State of Maryland particularly those judges in Baltimore City," Ryan said.

The proposal is one of several sweeping reforms Mosby put forward this week to change how police misconduct cases are investigated and prosecuted. Mosby also said members of her office should have police powers, and proposed a new team of investigators that would include officials from the Maryland State Police and the civilian review board.

The police union did not comment on Mosby's other recommendations, and declined to address them in a brief phone interview.

After jurors failed to reach a verdict in the trial of the first officer charged in Gray's death, the next three officers opted for bench trials and were acquitted by Circuit Judge Barry Williams. Williams criticized prosecutors' theory of the cases and said they lacked evidence.

Mosby said Thursday she had challenged a "long-standing protective norm" in charging the six Baltimore officers in Gray's arrest and death, and ended up learning "hard, valuable and challenging lessons" about the need for institutional change.

She said a trial by a jury — "if the jury is diversely composed — is preferable to a bench trial because it limits the court system's implicit bias by allowing a more diverse body to serve as the trier of fact." She noted that the federal system gives the prosecutors and judge the power to reject a defendant's preference for a bench trial.

Ryan said that Williams' verdicts "were in accordance with his oath of office requiring that his decision be fair and impartial based solely on the evidence."

A spokeswoman for Mosby said that she is seeking to implement her proposals only in Baltimore, but with the hope that they could be duplicated across the state and country if successful. State's attorneys from other Maryland jurisdictions said they were not consulted about the proposals.

John Erzen, a spokesman for Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, said the bench trial change was "on the surface a little bit concerning because you would be taking away someone's rights," but said county prosecutors looked forward to discussing the ideas with Mosby. He noted two recent bench trials of police officers in Prince George's that ended with convictions.

Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger said he had no opinion about Mosby's proposals. "I think each jurisdiction should have their own policies that fit them," he said.

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