Charges without conviction? Baltimore prosecutor under fire

Marilyn Mosby was lauded for her swift filing of charges against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray last year. But now, critics question whether she may have acted too hastily in effort to appease angry protesters.

Jose Luis Magana/AP/File
The Baltimore's top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby, shown here arriving at court in Annapolis, Md., in March, is facing criticism that she moved too quickly to file charges against six officers in the death of Freddie Gray after a judge on Monday acquitted Officer Edward Nero of all charges against him.

With two trials and no convictions in the death of Baltimore's Freddie Gray, critics say that the prosecution may have moved too fast in bringing charges against police officers involved.

When Baltimore-area prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby quickly levied charges against six police officers in the death of Mr. Gray, many observers were pleased that justice was being carried out so quickly, especially following the decisions not to prosecute officers in other high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City. Now, critics are saying that the time may not have been right for Ms. Mosby to lay charges.

"This speaks to the notion a lot of people had when this first happened, which is that it was a rush to judgment," former civil rights prosecutor David Weinstein told the Associated Press. "The state's attorney was trying to balance what she had with the public outcry and call to action given the climate in Baltimore and across the US concerning policing, and I think she was overreaching."

Mosby, the state's youngest ever top prosecutor, was responding in part to public outcry after Gray's death when she levied charges just weeks after the incident, and just a day after receiving the Baltimore Police Department's investigation.

"To the youth of this city, I will seek justice on your behalf," Mosby told reporters during her announcement of the charges on May 1, 2015. "As young people our time is now."

That announcement was welcome news to enraged Baltimoreans who had taken to the streets in the wake of Gray's death in tense, and at times violent, protest. Gray's death quickly became symbolic of what activists described as a pattern of aggressive policing and mistreatment of black residents.

When Freddie Gray fled after making eye contact with police officers on April 12, 2015, officers gave chase. They arrested him on charges of having an illegal switchblade, though the legality of the knife Mr. Gray carried is still in question.

Although Gray repeatedly called for medical attention, his requests for help were ignored as he was carried, handcuffed but not fastened in a seatbelt, in the back of a police car for 45 minutes. Gray died one week later with a broken neck.

Critics say that Mosby's judgement was too heavily influenced over the popular outcry over Gray's death and left prosecutors with insufficient evidence to convict the officers charged. 

This December, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams declared a mistrial for Officer William Porter. And on Monday, Judge Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero in front of a packed courtroom.

"Officer Edward Nero, his wife and family are elated that this nightmare is finally over," wrote Mr. Nero’s lawyers in a statement. "The state's attorney for Baltimore city rushed to charge him, as well as the other five officers, completely disregarding the facts of the case and the applicable law. His hope is that the state's attorney will reevaluate the remaining five officers' cases and dismiss their charges."

Although each of the other officers will face trial on their own, Judge Williams discounted each charge against Nero on the state's failure to prove claims against him. The other officers could be spared for similar reasons.

Williams rejected every claim asserted by the prosecution in Nero's case.

"The state's theory from the beginning has been one of negligence, recklessness, and disregard for duty and orders by this defendant," Williams said during Nero's trial, according to the Associated Press. "There has been no information presented at this trial that the defendant intended for any crime to happen."

Caesar Goodson's trial, the only one in which the defendant is charged with second-degree murder, is scheduled to take place in two weeks.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

[Editor's note: This article has been corrected to reflect that legality of the knife Freddie Gray was carrying is still in question.]

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