Marilyn Mosby was enjoying her Wednesday evening at the waterfront bar Sandlot when a man passed her with his cellphone recording.
Filming her, Sean Gearhart called out the words that have hounded the Baltimore state’s attorney for years. “Free Keith Davis Jr.!”
Mosby turned, raised her hand — at first with only her thumb extended — and then the video shows her flashing him the middle finger.
“She flipped me off. That’s all that really happened. The whole ordeal lasted 10 seconds,” Gearhart said later.
That night, the video circulated on Twitter and Mosby’s office denied the gesture in a message posted from the Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office official Twitter account. “This is clearly a thumb guys — enough already. Let’s move on.”
Thursday, Mosby’s office issued a statement repeating that the video showed her thumb raised — not her middle finger. When The Baltimore Sun enlarged a screenshot of her hand and presented it to her office, a new statement came. It didn’t mention any thumb.
Rather, Mosby said she felt threatened by Gearhart.
“Last night while I was out with work colleagues, a male stranger aggressively biked towards me and two female friends and shouted into my unmasked face,” she said in a statement. “As he biked off, I responded the way any normal woman would to a threatening strange man. No woman — elected or otherwise — should be expected to put up with that type of behavior from a man.”
The encounter reveals the tension that continues to surround her attempts to convict Keith Davis Jr. of murder. Even as Mosby builds a national reputation as a progressive prosecutor and speaker on criminal-justice issues, the case remains a thorn in her side back home.
Last week, a Baltimore circuit judge granted a new trial to the 29-year-old Davis. The judge’s order likely brings his fifth murder trial and sixth trial overall. He had been serving a 50-year prison term.
Mosby’s office has declined to comment on the case. In social media posts, court filings and public appearances, Mosby and her deputies have maintained that they believe Davis gunned down Pimlico security guard Kevin Jones in the early morning of June 2015. Mosby has said she will continue to seek justice for Jones’ family. His family has declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Davis, his wife and defense attorneys have maintained that he did not kill Jones. Rather, they argue, Davis himself has been the victim of police who chased him without legal cause, shot and wounded him, then planted a gun to cover their tracks.
His first trial resulted in a hung jury. A Baltimore jury convicted him in his second trial, but the conviction was overturned. His third trial brought another hung jury. In the summer of 2019, he was tried a fourth time and jurors convicted of second-degree murder. The judge sentenced him to 50 years.
In a startling reversal, however, Maryland’s highest court ruled defense attorneys had been unfairly barred from asking prospective jurors certain questions about impartiality and a defendant’s right not to testify. On these grounds, defense attorneys successfully argued for new trials in a series of murder cases. Circuit Judge Sylvester Cox last week granted a new trial for Davis.
His case has become a rallying cry for social justice activists in the city. His supporters have grown in number over the years, held rallies and protest marches, and confronted Mosby at public appearances to demand she “free Keith Davis Jr!”
Gearhart, 32, plays the bagpipes and performed at one such rally. On Wednesday, he was walking his bicycle through the Sandlot in Harbor East when he saw Mosby and started filming.
“I’ve been following the Keith Davis Jr. case since it happened,” he said. “It’s clear that this is personal at this point.”
Davis’ supporters have called attention to instances of Mosby and her deputies firing back at criticism about the case online. These advocates say the merits of the case are now overshadowed by an animosity, that, simply put, it’s become Mosby versus the Keith Davis Jr. crowd.
Both sides have cried foul, however. Mosby’s spokeswoman, Zy Richardson, said the crowd has protested outside the home of the Mosby family, put flyers on her neighbor’s car, interrupted her at community events and shown up to her daughter’s school. Davis’ supporters dispute the school claim.
They say the case has become a vendetta for Mosby, and therefore should be dismissed. Davis’ wife, Kelly, circulated the video Wednesday night to news reporters as further evidence that Mosby has compromised her objectivity.
“I was shocked and horrified to watch Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby give a profane gesture to a vocal advocate regarding a case her office is currently prosecuting,” Kelly Davis wrote in an email “It is clear that she has a personal bias towards my husband, Keith Davis Jr, and we the Davis Family are asking for an immediate removal and review.”
Davis’ attorney, Deborah Katz Levi, the director of special litigation for the public defender’s office, said she was troubled by the video, too.
“It gives the appearance of personal bias concerning the life and freedom of Keith Davis,” she wrote in an email.
Levi has called for Mosby to drop the charges and said prosecutors face a crucial decision in whether to press on with a sixth trial.
“The mental anguish of Mr. Davis, who sits in a cell, apart from his wife and children, waiting for this decision to be made is unimaginable,” she wrote. “And the mere suggestion that Ms. Mosby is making the decision on whether to reprosecute with personal bias, and without the professionalism and weight that it requires, is greater than deeply troubling.”
Mosby hasn’t said whether she will in fact try Davis again. No trial date has been scheduled.