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Baltimore state's attorney race kicks of with Bates campaign launch

The contest to become Baltimore’s top prosecutor kicked off in earnest Saturday, as defense attorney Ivan J. Bates launched his campaign at a Park Heights home where a young father was fatally shot in 2015.

Bates, a Democrat, is the first candidate to publicly launch a campaign to challenge incumbent State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, in what could become a crowded race.

Challengers are lining up against Mosby, a Democrat who has come under fire as Baltimore’s homicide rate has soared and her office has had to throw out dozens of cases because of potential problems with evidence exposed by police body-camera footage.

She has also earned both criticism and praise for her handling of cases against six officers accused in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in 2015. None of the officers was convicted

Two other Democrats are weighing challenges against Mosby.

Defense attorney Charles N. “Chad” Curlett Jr. has said he intends to run. And former state deputy attorney general Thiru Vignarajah said Saturday that he, too, is “seriously considering” running.

Vignarajah, who is now in private practice, represented the state in opposing a new trial for convicted murderer Adnan Syed, whose case was the focus of the popular “Serial” podcast.

“Defense attorneys jumping in is a symptom of widespread frustration and heartbreak with what’s happening,” Vignarajah said.

Meanwhile, an anti-Mosby political action committee, Bmore Safe Now, was formed this summer.

As of Saturday morning, Baltimore has recorded 229 homicides this year, following 318 homicides in 2016 and 344 in 2015.

Mosby has not launched a re-election campaign, but she has held campaign fundraisers. A campaign adviser declined to comment on the criticism leveled against Mosby or when she might kick off her campaign.

Without mentioning Mosby by name, Bates said Mosby has failed to do her part to stem the rising tide of violence in the city.

“We are losing our city to crime. We are constantly in a state of mourning,” Bates said, as he promised a crowd of dozens of supporters that he would help reverse the rising crime rates in the city. “Because nearly every day since 2015 at least another person is murdered. Under our current state’s attorney, we are on pace for our third consecutive year of 300-plus murders.”

Bates said he would be tough on violent repeat offenders while, at the same time, showing discretion for low-level offenders, offering drug and mental health treatment and job placement services.

Bates held his campaign announcement at the former home of Kendal Fenwick, a 24-year-old father of three who was shot to death in 2015 as homicides began to soar in Baltimore.

Fenwick’s father, Kevin, was among those who spoke in support of Bates’ candidacy. He said the man accused in his son’s killing was a repeat offender who should not have been on the streets.

“If the current state’s attorney would have done her job, my son may still be living today,” Kevin Fenwick said. “I speak for many grieving parents in this city. I don’t want anyone else to feel the way me and my family are feeling.”

Police initially said that Fenwick may have been targeted because he was building a fence to prevent drug dealers from coming into his yard. Days after Fenwick’s death, neighbors, community leaders and police officers descended on his home on Park Heights Avenue to finish building the fence, with Bates’ law firm donating the lumber.

But prosecutors said in June that Fenwick’s death likely was a case of mistaken identity. A man was charged in Fenwick’s death, but a mistrial was declared in June.

Bates said Fenwick’s death caused him to reflect on whether there was something more he could do to help the city.

“I am tired of our city losing an entire generation. I am tired of it being acceptable for so many to be killed and victimized in Baltimore when it is not acceptable anywhere else,” he said.

Bates has said he recently moved back to Baltimore, where he began his legal career in 1995 after graduating from law school. Bates is registered to vote at a property he owns in Locust Point but also still owns a home in Howard County, according to public records.

Bates gained prominence in 2015 as one of the defense attorneys for the six city officers involved in the Gray case. Gray died in April that year after he was injured in the back of a police van. His death sparked outrage in the community and rioting, looting and arsons took place on the day of his funeral.

Bates represented Sgt. Alicia White, one of the two supervisors who was charged in the case.

Asked whether he could convince the public that he could restore confidence in the justice system when he has represented White and other officers accused of wrongdoing, Bates responded that everyone accused of a crime has a constitutional right to legal defense.

Brittany Gause, an attorney who handles civil cases, attended the campaign event and said she believes Bates will restore trust in the state’s attorney’s office.

“The most important part he said was about rebuilding confidence in the state’s attorney’s office,” Gause said. “There’s a credibility issue that we have to take into consideration.”

Justin M. Hollimon, a private defense attorney, said he supports Bates’ promise to use compassion and discretion in handling low-level offenders. Simply locking everyone up is not what Baltimore needs, Hollimon said.

“For the segment of the community that’s not violent offenders, compassion is important,” he said.

The Democratic primary is in June. No Republicans have announced intentions to run.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect title for Thiru Vignarajah’s former position in the state attorney general’s office. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.)

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

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