It is only August, and Baltimore is staring at 200 dead men, women and children. Having been a prosecutor in this city for 12 years, four in the Homicide Division, I can no longer stand idly by and watch State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby avoid taking responsibility for her role in the increase in violence.
The most recent example of her questionable leadership is her decision to restrict the Homicide Review Commission to closed cases that occurred before she became state's attorney. She claims the program is a waste of money, places witnesses in jeopardy and is pointless because she knows the reason for the increase in violence is drugs.
When I was involved in the commission in its early stages, organizers asked us to send one prosecutor, for one afternoon, once a month. It did not cost the state's attorney's office anything except time. Coming off the deadliest month in decades –— deadliest in our history per capita — is now really the time to be turning down free help?
In Ms. Mosby's recent op-ed she claimed that she was limiting the office's participation to closed cases out of concern for witnesses' safety. All experienced prosecutors know the dangers of being labeled a snitch do not end when the case closes. Where was her purported concern for witnesses' safety when her administration published a press release including the name of a witness on April 15? (It was later changed after complaints.) Certainly sharing a witness' involvement with the whole city is more dangerous than sharing it with three researchers from Johns Hopkins who could have been required to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Ms. Mosby indicated that she already knows the reason for the increase in homicides: drugs and gangs. In February, her administration sent out a memo stating that for all nonviolent crimes prosecutors were "expected and encouraged" to offer probation and services, unless the defendant had a violent history. If, as she claims, the increase in violence is caused by drugs, constantly offering probation to drug dealers is senseless.
Her decisions also have led to irresponsibly light plea offers for violent crimes. Despite the prosecutor's office already being short staffed, in her first week, Ms. Mosby fired six well respected prosecutors with extensive violent crime experience — one in the middle of a robbery trial. At least 10 more trial attorneys have left the office since then. Their cases were redistributed to new prosecutors who were forced to try the cases unprepared or plea them to incredibly low sentences. I have been in court and watched case after case plea to sentences that would have never been offered a year ago. While Ms. Mosby's predecessor had a strict policy about invoking mandatory sentences for gun cases, the current administration has no such policy. The "bad guys with guns" get slaps on the wrist.
Felony prosecutor positions have been left vacant for months while Ms. Mosby added staff to her media team and community outreach people. Before becoming a prosecutor, I helped found the National Center for Community Prosecution. I fully understand the benefit of community outreach programs, but first and foremost the prosecutor's office has to prosecute crimes. Ms. Mosby has allocated over $1 million in salaries for newly created positions for people who do not regularly prosecute cases.
Ms. Mosby's press conference announcing her decision to indict the officers involved in the Freddie Gray arrest had a chilling effect on the Baltimore Police Department. The state's attorney's office has always prosecuted police officers for crimes, including murder, and I have personally tried and convicted a former police officer for shooting an unarmed man and was trying another one for murder when I left the office. It is not officers being charged that impacted the department but the words and political rhetoric that accompanied those charges. Ms. Mosby has demonstrated that if she disagrees with an officer's assessment of probable cause to make an arrest, the officer will be charged. Following her press conference, city arrests dropped and violence increased because officers cannot trust that she won't again decide to place their futures in jeopardy.
While specifics needed to be worked out, the Homicide Review Commission could hold agencies accountable. Unlike programs that just track trends, the fledgling commission looked to see if a homicide could have been prevented. It could do that without any witness information. For example, if a suspect had a case dismissed, the commission would see if better case handling could have prevented the suspect from being released.
Of the 200 murders so far this year, 28 cases have led to charges against roughly 30 people. Five of those defendants were released this year in earlier cases under the Mosby administration. Had these cases been handled differently, had her office worked more effectively with police or made stronger arguments in court, perhaps the victims would still be alive.
I call upon the Mosby administration to allow an independent group to examine the records of suspects involved in the recent violence to see if they were released under the current administration. The administration should also release statistics reflecting outcomes and sentences in felony cases. Those statistics will allow for an accurate assessment of the performance of her office.
It is time for the community to have an informed discussion about what is happening in the state's attorney office and how it is affecting the lives of every resident.
Ms. Mosby speaks often of her commitment to transparency; now is the time to see if those words are genuine.
Roya Hanna is a former Baltimore assistant state's attorney who left the office in April to open a criminal defense practice. Her email is email@example.com.
Though Ms. Mosby's office argues extenuating circumstances in some instances, five of the roughly 30 people charged in the city's 200 killings thus far this year were released in other cases under Marilyn Mosby's administration:
Donnell Walker: His handgun case pled to probation before judgment on Jan. 8; he is alleged to have killed Victor Gwaultney on March 25.
Charles Henson: He was out on bail in a felony drug case pending when he allegedly killed Davon Johnson on Jan. 28. Even though the SAO indicted him for murder in February, his felony drug case, in which he could have received 20 years or more, was pled in June to time served.
Brandon Payton: He was charged with rioting and released on bail on June 4; he is alleged to have killed Steve Bass on June 12.
Davon Vennie: His felony drug case was dismissed on June 26; he is alleged to have killed Nathaniel Jackson on July 2.
Randy Jones: He was out on bail in a first-degree assault case when his case was postponed July 2; he is alleged to have killed Antonio Anderson on July 7.
— Roya Hanna