We return now to our ongoing series, “The Misadventures of Marilyn Mosby, Child Prosecutor.” You’ll recall that Mosby is the state’s attorney for the city of Baltimore, and that it was she who, in a nakedly political attempt to appease a riotous mob, brought charges against the six police officers implicated in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.
The four trials conducted in the case resulted in three acquittals and a hung jury, a pattern of defeat sufficient that even one as blinkered as Mosby could see there was no hope of securing a conviction against any of the officers. Faced with this reality, Mosby declined to proceed with the cases against the two defendants who had not yet been tried and the one whose trial had ended in a hung jury.
Given what thin gruel the prosecution’s case was revealed to be, and given the humiliation Mosby and her office suffered with each succeeding failure in court, one might have hoped that Mosby would acknowledge her mistakes and step away from the case while showing some degree of grace and humility. Alas, these are terms foreign to her vocabulary, for when in July she announced that she would be dropping the case, she did so not from her office or the courthouse steps, but rather from a street corner in the West Baltimore neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested. And the manner in which she delivered her remarks was not characterized by even a hint of grace and humility, but rather by a childlike petulance and the same rabble-rousing bombast with which she announced the filing of charges against the officers less than two weeks after Gray’s death.
Mosby is not without her defenders but she has been widely criticized, not least by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who in September accused Mosby of acting precipitously in charging the officers before a thorough investigation had been completed. “The political pressure is real when you are in big jobs,” Rawlings-Blake told the Baltimore Sun, “and you can’t bow to the political pressure and charge when you’re not ready. You have to stand up, be in the big role and say to the people … you need time to continue to investigate.”
Despite this public drubbing, Mosby has shown no sign of regret at how she conducted the matter, and indeed she has now staked out a position that further isolates her office from the police officers with whom she must cooperate in fighting Baltimore’s very considerable crime problem. On October 20, Mosby wrote an op-ed column for the Baltimore Sun in which she made five proposals for modifying the manner in which allegations of police misconduct are investigated.
The most controversial of these proposals, and the one that most exposes Mosby’s petulant streak, is her desire to restrict a defendant’s option to be tried by a judge rather than a jury. “The jury trial as an institution reflects our democratic values of representation and deliberative decision-making,” she wrote. “State law should allow prosecutors and judges to reject a defendant’s preference for a bench trial, whereby a diversely composed jury delivers a higher quality of justice in controlling bias in the courtroom, helps maintain public trust and imparts credibility on the outcome of the case, especially as it relates to police misconduct.”
The three acquittals in the Freddie Gray case were delivered by a single judge, Barry Williams, whose written rationales exposed for all to see the many defects in the State’s case. Reasonable doubt abounded here, and as Williams would write over and over, the State failed to prove even a single count of the many lodged against the officers. Under Mosby’s proposal, some officer similarly accused in a politically charged case in the future would be prohibited from opting for a bench trial. No doubt Mosby would have preferred to grab twelve rioters off the streets of Baltimore and trade their bricks and Molotov cocktails for steno pads before seating them in the jury box, there to deliver a quick conviction and bundle the officers off to prison. Fortunately for those officers, Maryland law allowed them the option of having their case heard by Judge Williams and not by the “diversely composed jury” of Mosby’s fantasies.
As of this writing, 261 people had been murdered in Baltimore this year, with a good number of them meeting their end in the very neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested. If Mosby’s proposal to mandate a jury trial for accused police officers is adopted, would any sane police officer place his life and freedom at risk by trying to arrest those responsible for the mayhem? And for that matter, would any sane person even consider joining the Baltimore Police Department in the first place?
There will be no improvement of conditions in Baltimore until the city’s crime is brought under control and order is restored to its most violent neighborhoods. Marilyn Mosby is an impediment to this. The city will be improved with her departure from office. May it come soon.