Win or lose in court, Marilyn Mosby remains a controversial figure as supporters and opponents dig in

Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State's Attorney.
Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore State's Attorney. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby instantly became a controversial figure across America — lauded as a hero by the left and decried as a demagogue by the right — when she brought charges against six police officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

More than a year later, her repute is even more debatable.


With two officers acquitted and a third scheduled to go on trial this week, Mosby's critics are calling for her to resign and to drop the charges against all of the officers. Detractors say she has demoralized the Police Department and emboldened criminals, and speculation has begun about who would challenge her re-election in two years.

"She'll try to say, 'At least I tried. Isn't that a good thing?'" said Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore prosecutor. But she added: "I think indicting people when you have no evidence to convict them shows a serious lack of judgment."


Boosters, meanwhile, applaud Mosby's efforts to seek justice. Win or lose in court, they say, her prosecutions helped to spur reforms by exposing deficient police policies and the purchase of safer police vans with cameras inside. Gray, 25, died after suffering spinal injuries as he was transported, shackled and unbuckled, in the back of a police transport van.

"These officers may end up not guilty, but the trials exposed a lot of the problems in the Police Department in terms of training and following procedures," said Ralph Moore, a longtime community activist in Baltimore. "If she hadn't had these trials, where would the community get that information from? I think she's a hero, and many others think that too."

The fault lines over Mosby intensified after a judge acquitted Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the van driver, on all charges.

State Del. Pat McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, called for Mosby's resignation last week, and an activist law professor called on the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission to have her disbarred.

Mosby's backers, including officials with the local NAACP chapter and Del. Curt Anderson, a Baltimore City Democrat, rushed to her defense, saying she has done her job. Community activists including the Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon also decried death threats against Mosby.

Mosby's office provided The Baltimore Sun nearly two dozen racist, sexist and threatening emails as a sample of the type of attacks she receives. One includes a fake obituary of Mosby and describes her being "gunned down" and her family members being hurt.

Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for Mosby, said the office receives such emails, phone calls, and posts on social media daily.

Baltimore police are "looking into this situation," spokesman T.J. Smith said. David Fitz, a spokesman for the FBI's Baltimore office, said his agency is working with Baltimore police.

Ritchie said the threats "are being taken very seriously" but declined to comment on security measures.

She also declined to discuss the Gray case, because the judge has imposed a wide-ranging gag order, but said that Mosby "will continue to pursue justice for all victims of crime in Baltimore City in an attempt to make our city a safer place."

Those on either side of the Mosby debate seize on different crime and policing statistics.

Complaints against police officers are down sharply in Baltimore, and Mosby's supporters credit her decision to press charges as contributing to the decline. Through the first half of 2016, 215 citizen complaints have been lodged against the police — a 37 percent decline from last year, data show. Excessive-force complaints have declined to 41, a 39 percent drop.


"Mosby has sent a clarion message to rogue city officers who believe they are above the law, that they better take heed," said attorney J. Wyndal Gordon, who has closely followed the case.

Testimony during the officer's trials, Mosby's supporters contend, alerted the public that police lacked training in how to handle detainees and were unaware of a new department policy to secure detainees in seat belts.

In a city that has paid out millions in recent years to settle lawsuits alleging police misconduct, the trials also focused attention on police accountability and misconduct. Mosby's backers say the case put pressure on Maryland lawmakers to pass legislation overhauling police discipline, hiring and training and on city officials to equip officers with body cameras and implement a range of reforms.

But critics say Mosby's insistence on prosecuting the officers has opened a rift between police and prosecutors, who must work closely to bring criminals to justice.

Arrests declined sharply in Baltimore after Mosby announced the charges and have yet to fully rebound. In May 2014, for instance, there were 3,753 arrests in Baltimore compared with 2,165 this May. Last year ended with 344 killings, a record number of homicides per capita, and shootings are even higher this year.

City Solicitor George Nilson said it's clear some officers have shied away from aggressive law enforcement because of the charges, prompting some criminals to feel empowered.

"Their attitude is, 'We own the streets,'" Nilson said. "How could criminal charges ... not have an impact on police culture? It's going to have an effect. One is a good effect; the other is a not-so-good effect. It could reduce the level of excessive use of force, but it could also make officers more timid and less willing to do the things we all thought the Supreme Court told us we could do."

Tensions between police and prosecutors have been on display during the trials, with a top prosecutor accusing a lead detective of trying to sabotage the state's case. The detective, Dawnyell Taylor, testified that prosecutors refused to accept her notes on the case, which she later handed over to defense lawyers. The judge faulted prosecutors for not obtaining the notes and turning them over, as required under discovery.

In the notes, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, Taylor contends that prosecutors gave her a misleading statement to read to the grand jury that issued the criminal indictments against the officers. She read the statement, which summarized the evidence in the case, even though she found it to be "inconsistent" with the police investigation.

Any missteps in court are likely to become fodder for Mosby's political opponents.

"Failure is not good for anyone," said attorney Chad Curlett, who has been closely watching the trials. "Anybody who wants to challenge her has plenty to run on."

Hanna said she believes several candidates will line up to run against Mosby. She said she is among dozens of employees who have left Mosby's office.

"Her handling of this case has ... caused people a lot of concern, particularly with the discovery violations," Hanna said. "She seems to be putting the duties of the prosecutor second to her political ambition."


Defense attorney Ivan Bates, a Mosby critic, said he believes a new top prosecutor is needed. "It has to be a person that can go to a lot of the good talent that left and get them to come back," he said.

"If you don't have the right person as state's attorney, you can have a public safety crisis."

Mosby's supporters argue her accomplishments are being overlooked. With so much attention on the trials of the officers, they say few are taking notice of other important cases. Mosby recently testified before the Baltimore City Council that her office had a nearly 80 percent conviction rate — securing 129 convictions — in murder cases in 2015.

"I'm extremely proud of them for that," she said.

Under Mosby, high-profile convictions include cases against a two men deemed "Public Enemy No. 1" by police, a serial rapist who eluded jail time for years, and the murderer of a 1-year-old child. She created programs aimed at keeping nonviolent, first-time drug offenders out of jail and improving relationships between the community and the prosecutor's office.

Moore said he believes Mosby is not getting credit for all the good she's done in office.

"People are going back and trying to cast a negative shadow over everything she's done," Moore said. "She's done a good job in many matters. She's gotten major convictions. She's doing creative programming with young people. I think she's been a very strong state's attorney."

Gordon said he believes Mosby could weather any political fallout from the Gray case. He also recalled the events of last year, saying Mosby's decision to press charges helped to quell unrest after rioting broke out on the day of Gray's funeral.

He praised Mosby for continuing to prosecute the case "until the bitter end, disaffected and disabused by public opinion, scrutiny, and criticism."

Ray Kelly, a community organizer, said that Mosby has the backing of many in the community.

"My perspective is she initiated a change," Kelly said. "This whole type of indictment and trial is unprecedented in this city. So many people have never even tried to undertake this endeavor. She's doing what we all try to do: Take on the system."

Even so, Kelly said, the lack of convictions related to Gray's death is taking a toll on those who support Mosby.

"It's important everyone ask themselves the question: At what point do our lives matter?" he asked. "It's so disheartening that we cannot establish in our system at what point our lives matter."

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.


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