Freddie Gray case roils prosecutor election — but not the one in Baltimore

One side of the political mailer shows the famous 2015 photo of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby on the steps of downtown’s War Memorial building as she announced charges in the death of Freddie Gray. The other side accuses her of prosecuting six “INNOCENT” Baltimore police officers.

But the ad wasn’t aimed at voters in Baltimore, where Mosby faces serious challenges from two rival Democrats in the June 26 primary election.

It was sent to Republicans in semi-rural Harford County, an hour’s drive from where Gray lived and died in West Baltimore.

The target is Albert Peisinger, a former prosecutor in Mosby’s office who is now hoping to become state’s attorney in Harford County. Peisinger can be seen in the photo standing behind Mosby as she made her announcement.

The mailer underscores how divisive Mosby’s case against the officers remains throughout the Baltimore region, more than three years after Gray’s death and long after the police were cleared of any wrongdoing.

People’s feelings on whether the prosecutions were justified often depend on where they live and whether they’re white or black. For some, Mosby’s actions showed a willingness to hold officers accountable for the death of a black man, when so many other prosecutors had not even tried. To others, her charges seemed opportunistic and a rush to judgment.

Mosby remains popular in Baltimore and has used the same images of herself on the War Memorial steps in her own campaign ads.

But David Ryden, the current deputy state’s attorney in Harford County, sent out the mailer because he thought Mosby’s actions played differently there.

“I don’t think this county takes too kindly to prosecuting law enforcement for doing their job,” Ryden said.

The front of the flier highlights the faces of Mosby and Peisinger and asks what they have in common.

“They both prosecuted six INNOCENT Baltimore City police officers after the death of Freddie Gray,” the back reads. It urges voters to opt for a candidate who works with police to fight crime “NOT AGAINST THEM.”

Peisinger said the mailer is deeply unfair. He acknowledged that he was involved in the investigation into the officers, but said he didn’t think there was enough evidence to bring charges when Mosby did. Peisinger said he wasn’t involved in taking the cases to court.

“It’s totally unfair and a total lie,” Peisinger said. “I didn’t prosecute those officers.”

On Thursday, Peisinger sought to limit the damage with a robocall to would-be Republican voters hoping to limit the damage and, as he sees it, set the record straight.

Ryden said he thought the mailer was appropriate because Peisinger admitted to investigating the case. Ryden said an investigation, even before charges are filed, is an “act of prosecution.”

Ryden recalled being at a training event with about 100 other Maryland prosecutors the day in May 1, 2015, that Mosby filed the charges. The attendees were shocked, he said. Ryden said he didn’t know what motivated Mosby to bring the case but said the decision appeared to be political — an approach he said he wouldn’t take if he wins election.

“You can’t be subject to the whims of the public in determining what it is you're going to do,” Ryden said.

The six officers faced charges ranging from murder to misconduct. Ultimately, none of them was convicted. Two of the officers later accepted internal discipline for their role.

Peisinger said he knew the case would be an issue in his campaign and he sought to address it proactively on his website and in social media postings. Voters didn’t seem that interested in it, he said, adding that it was his opponent who has seized on the issue.

Peisinger said he didn’t know today whether there was a criminal case that could have been made against the officers, saying he’d need more information to make an assessment. But he didn’t want to second-guess Mosby’s choice.

“She had decisions to be made and she chose to make them,” he said. “I’m not going to Monday-morning-quarterback her decisions. Some people liked them, some people didn’t.”

iduncan@baltsun.com

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