Advertisement

Taken to court, Baltimore agrees to new trial board makeup in Freddie Gray officers' cases

Attorneys for the city of Baltimore agreed Tuesday to replace the board of outside law enforcement officials presiding over forthcoming disciplinary trials of three police officers in relation to the arrest of Freddie Gray, bowing to objections raised in court by the officers' defense counsel.

"We will recompose the panel voluntarily," City Solicitor Andre Davis told Baltimore Circuit Judge Jeannie Hong during an expedited morning hearing to consider a defense motion for a delay in the cases.

Advertisement

Defense attorneys for Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. had alleged that meetings police commanders and city attorneys had with the intended trial board members had infringed on the officers' right to due process. The board members were police officials from Prince George's County Police and Maryland State Police.

Goodson is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 30, Rice on Nov. 13 and White on Dec. 5.

The city agreed to replace the trial board panel despite Davis' saying the change "sends the wrong message" to Baltimore's citizens and that the defense arguments for doing so were spurious and abstract.

"Your honor, with all due respect, it's smoke and mirrors," said Davis, a former federal judge.

Hong accepted that the city's decision to replace the panel made the defense legal challenge pertaining to the panel's composition moot.

Davis said the city could appoint new panel members by the close of business Thursday. He said the new panel would also be composed of law enforcement officials from outside the Baltimore Police Department, but did not identify them. The city has previously said the selection of trial board members from outside the Baltimore Police Department would help avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Other questions raised at the morning hearing were left unanswered, including whether and how the city would seek to avoid future legal challenges.

Michael Davey, an attorney for Rice, said Tuesday that the officers are "not looking to drag this on" but to ensure it is resolved fairly.

Davey said the communications the city had with the intended trial board members before the trial boards, without anyone from the defense present, raised significant questions.

The officers, Davey said, simply want to "make sure we're not doing this for a second time in 2019."

Davey said the issue could be resolved if the city allowed for a defense representative to be present during any pre-trial meetings or training.

Davis said he would wait to see if Hong's order spoke to that question at all. But he also challenged any suggestion by the defense that city attorneys should not be allowed to meet with police officials sitting on disciplinary trial boards without defense counsel being in the room.

Davis said the intended trial board members — Capt. Cynthia Ruff and Majors Irene Burks and Robert Clark from Prince George's County and Capt. Peter Spaulding of the Maryland State Police — were simply shown a PowerPoint presentation about the trial board process, not the facts of the cases against the officers.

Gray, 25, was arrested on April 12, 2015, in West Baltimore and placed in the back of a police transport van in handcuffs and shackles but not restrained by a seat belt. He suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in the back of the van, according to the state medical examiner and other medical experts who reviewed the case, and died a week later.

Advertisement

Gray's death sparked widespread protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. The city was under a nightly curfew for a week, and millions of dollars in damages were suffered. The city paid a $6.4 million civil settlement to Gray's family.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby filed criminal charges against Goodson, Rice, White and three other officers, but failed to secure a conviction. Goodson, Rice and Officer Edward Nero were acquitted at bench trials, and Mosby dropped all remaining charges. The U.S. Justice Department declined to bring federal charges in the case.

Police in Montgomery and Howard counties conducted an internal review and recommended five of the officers face internal discipline. Two — Nero and Officer Garrett Miller — accepted "minor disciplinary action" and are back at work.

Goodson, Rice and White face possible termination.

Davis said the city has "bent over backwards" from the start to ensure the disciplinary process for the officers in the Gray case was conducted "fairly, impartially and transparently."

Davis said the city must get the proceedings in the Freddie Gray case behind it — even if Gray's family never will put his death behind them — so that the city can move forward.

"Baltimore has been traumatized enough," he said.

Davey said Davis was missing the point of the hearing.

"We're just losing sight of whose rights need to be protected here," he said.

Advertisement
Advertisement