Two of the six Baltimore police officers charged with manslaughter in the Freddie Gray case have filed a civil suit against Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore State’s Attorney, for defamation and invasion of privacy.
In their complaint filed with the court, officers charge that Mosby knew that statements she made at a press conference announcing that the officers were being indicted were false, and were made to quell riots that were then ongoing in Baltimore rather than for purposes of explaining the charges against the officers. (Full disclosure: The Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, of which I am chairman, is financially supporting the six officers charged in the Freddie Gray case.)
Such a lawsuit against a prosecutor while charges are pending is highly unusual. Although the officers may have a difficult time proving their case, if nothing else, it puts the prosecutor on the defensive, demonstrates the courage of the officers, and tells the people of Baltimore that the case is a sham designed for the political benefit of the prosecutor rather than the pursuit of justice.
Mosby, who had taken office barely 100 days before the Freddie Gray incident, fashions herself as an up-and-coming social and political figure in Baltimore who no doubt thought her career would be enhanced by prosecuting the six policemen involved in the arrest, Gray’s death, and the subsequent riots. In her haste to make herself a political star, she filed charges against the six police officers only one day after getting the official police report of the Gray incident. She later explained that she had done her own thorough investigation of the incident—although the officers’ attorneys have said that they could find no evidence that an investigation was conducted.
After the indictments, Mosby asked the court for a gag order against the officers and their attorneys, accusing them of conducting a “publicity blitz.” But the day after the court granted the order, Mosby sat down with hotshot Vogue photographer Annie Leibowitz for a photo shoot on her glamorous wardrobe; Vogue later ran a gushing profile. If that wasn’t enough self-promotion, when Prince performed his first concert in Baltimore in 14 years, he invited her on stage, and Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings publicly thanked God for her service. She must have thought that she was at the top of her game.
Unfortunately for Mosby, things are beginning to unravel. The first case that came to trial ended in a hung jury last December, and in the second, just last week, the officer was acquitted. She has been labeled in the press as incompetent, politically motivated, and a hypocrite. The new civil suit against will only add fuel to the fire.
Cases against police officers often put stars in the eyes of overzealous prosecutors, many of whom are constantly angling for a bigger job. But they are increasingly finding that there is more involved in winning the case than they thought at the press conference announcing the charges, and that prosecuting the police may not be all that helpful for political gain.
Last year, Mike Brelo, a Cleveland officer charged with voluntary manslaughter after a shoot-out with two multiple offenders and after a high-speed chase through the streets of Cleveland was acquitted after a lengthy trial. Timothy McGinty, the prosecutor, was subsequently defeated in his re-election bid.
Shaun Cowley, an officer in suburban Salt Lake City, was indicted last year for second degree manslaughter for shooting a woman who had tried to run him down with her car after Cowley witnessed a drug trade. The judge dismissed the case before trial for lack of evidence, and the prosecutor’s plea to the Utah Attorney General to appeal the dismissal was denied.
In a third case, Rick Combs, police chief of a small town in South Carolina was indicted by a county prosecutor who was trying to be named U.S. Attorney by the Obama administration. Combs was serving an arrest warrant when the defendant tried to run drive away as he hung on to the vehicle door for dear life; Combs shot and killed him. The prosecutor waited over three years after charging Combs for misconduct in office to bring him to trial.
Then, just after the Ferguson circus, thinking he could help his career, Solicitor David Pascoe demanded Combs take a plea deal under threat of upgrading his misconduct charge to murder. After two hung juries, the solicitor announced that he would continue to try Combs until he ran out of money. Combs did, and finally pled guilty to a misdemeanor. (More full disclosure: My organization supported all three of the above cases).
Mosby has announced that she will re-try the first Baltimore officer, and the other four cases are scheduled for trial as well, all before October. The civil suit just filed is no doubt a fly in the ointment, and can only help Baltimore juries realize the idiocy of these indictments. And Mosby’s career may be in jeopardy as well.