Baltimore state’s attorney doesn’t practice the transparency she preaches | COMMENTARY
By Iman Freeman and Matt Zernhelt
For The Baltimore Sun|
Jun 24, 2020 at 11:33 AM
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby recently wrote several op-eds describing a proactive role that prosecutors should play in police accountability. It is not what we have seen in Baltimore.
The state’s attorney could provide a bay window into the Baltimore Police Department. Marilyn Mosby’s office collects massive amounts of information on the police in two primary ways.
The first is simply as a byproduct of prosecuting cases; the police are essentially clients of the state’s attorney. Ms. Mosby is fully aware of which officers manipulate facts in reports, use excessive force, and have excessive complaint histories that risk discrediting their testimony and tanking a prosecution. Ms. Mosby developed a list of 300 such officers with integrity issues from this information, which she openly announced this winter.
Yet we have requested a copy of this list, and her office has fought handing it over. Why would they not want to identify untrustworthy officers?
Secondly, the state’s attorney is directly made aware of police violence and misconduct by the police department themselves. After any serious use of force, or serious misconduct, BPD must conduct an internal investigation with its Special Investigations Response Team. These files are considered criminal investigations and must be forwarded to the state’s attorney’s office.
The state’s attorney’s office has discretion over whether or not to prosecute. Many times they choose not to. But these files are public documents that can be disclosed openly to the public. So, we requested all files from last year. Ms. Mosby’s office responded that those records alone would take over 400 hours to reproduce. The office then placed exorbitant fees on the information requests, essentially blocking public access to the records. Fees can be charged for data reproduction purposes, but the law calls for fees to be waived if disclosure is in the public interest. And it would be hard for one to argue that police transparency is not in the city’s interest. We’ve since had to take Ms. Mosby to court to gain access to these records.
Ms. Mosby’s protection of the police was on recent display in her response to the heinous actions of Baltimore Officer Terry Love Jr. This month, Officer Love was caught on video punching Sharneasha Street on her temple with a closed fist, knocking her to the ground. Instead of using an easier form of restraint, he chose to escalate the force on the scene, hitting her from behind, according to the recording.
Ms. Mosby, with lightning speed by state’s attorney standards, released a decision that her office was not charging Officer Love. We requested all evidence they relied on to come to this conclusion, and they directed us to their website, which only included what they wanted us to see. They then indicated that we would get a response in 30 to 60 days (instead of the mandated 10 days) because of their supposedly limited access to records, although these records were at arm’s reach days prior.
The state’s attorney relies on the police as its investigative arm, which gives rise to an inherent conflict of interest. An additional conflict potentially exists, where Mosby’s lead investigator, Kelvin Sewell, worked for BPD, and even directly with Officer Love.
Looking deeper, Officer Love is former Detective Love, who in 2008 faced assault charges after a man was beaten unconscious. Although acquitted, his record put him on a list of officers that city prosecutors refuse to call for testimony and prevented him from being used as a credible witness in prosecutions. This leaves us with many questions, including: Why is he still on the force, and why was he out working on the street?
Our biggest question is why Ms. Street didn’t get treated to the same standard of justice as Officer Love. She did not get four days of freedom to determine if charges should be brought. She was immediately put in Central Booking and Intake Center without bail — and at risk of contracting COVID-19.
Ms. Mosby’s office routinely fights for no bail on charges ranging from second degree assault to simple possession with intent to distribute. Officer Love’s actions met all the elements of second-degree assault. Yet he wasn’t even charged, let alone held without bail.
The state’s attorney can and should help in police transparency, but Ms. Mosby has extended a law enforcement veil of secrecy. State’s Attorney Mosby must disclose records that further accountability of the Baltimore Police Department. Such transparency is long overdue.
Iman Freeman and Matt Zernhelt are the executive director and legal director of the Baltimore Action Legal Team (BALT), which provides legal support to Baltimore communities as they exercise their civil liberties protesting against injustices rooted in structural racism and economic inequality. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.