Legal analysts ripped Baltimore prosecutors Monday over their handling of the Freddie Gray case, saying the prosecution should drop all charges against the three remaining police officers or risk more embarrassment in the courtroom.
What’s more, John Banzhaf, an activist law professor at George Washington University, said he would file a complaint Tuesday with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission calling for the disbarment of the lead prosecutors in the trials of the six police officers accused of wrongdoing in the 2015 arrest and death of the 25-year-old black man.
The pointed criticism came Monday after Lt. Brian Rice was acquitted of all charges for his role in Gray’s arrest and death. The lieutenant was the highest-ranking of the accused officers, and his full acquittal was the third consecutive loss for prosecutors. Another trial ended in a hung jury in December, and a retrial has been scheduled.
But legal analysts said any subsequent trials should be canceled. They noted prosecutors’ failure to convict the most senior officer involved in Gray’s arrest (Lt. Rice) and the driver of the police van in which Gray’s neck was broken (Officer Caesar Goodson).
“It’s quite clear that the prosecution should not continue on,” said Barry Slotnick, a prominent defense lawyer who has followed the trials in the Gray case. “The prosecution in the next three cases should strongly make a suggestion in court — on the record — that these cases have not been proven and will not be proven and therefore they should be dismissed.”
Still, Mr. Slotnick said it’s unlikely that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby will drop the remaining trials. He attributed her filing of charges against the six officers to an intent to appease the community.
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“It’s rather sad,” he said. “The fact of the matter is that I think this prosecution was commenced by people who were concerned about community reaction. People should not be accused of a crime to have a community satisfied. It’s absolutely inappropriate.”
Mr. Banzhaf late last month filed a complaint against Ms. Mosby, accusing her of misconduct in bringing charges without sufficient evidence. He told The Washington Times that he would file disbarment complaints Tuesday against Baltimore Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe, the lead prosecutors for the police trials.
“Though they may have been ordered by Mosby to do what they did, that is no defense. Every prosecutor has an individual obligation,” the law professor said. “They aren’t some minions way down below on the chain that really have no choice. These are the two major people in charge of making the decisions. I think they are as guilty of ethical violations as she.”
Mr. Banzhaf said the prosecution’s ordeal would be over if Ms. Mosby would bow out and come clean.
“She could get up today and say, ‘I really tried. We have put in every effort we possibly could. It has precipitated a formal [Justice Department] investigation and changes in policy. We’ve accomplished a lot and gone as far as we can,’ ” he said. “Most of her followers would accept that.”
Prosecutors, defense attorneys and acquitted officers are bound by a gag order from speaking about the trials until all of the cases have been settled.
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On Monday, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Lt. Rice, who was charged with involuntary manslaughter, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Prosecutors dropped a second misconduct charge before the trial started, and the judge dropped a second-degree assault charge after the prosecution rested its case last week.
In addition, the judge chided prosecutors for the second time in a trial related to Gray’s death for withholding evidence from defense attorneys.
Police handcuffed and shackled Gray but did not secure him in a seat belt when they arrested him. He died April 19, 2015, a week after his neck was broken in the back of the van. His death and funeral sparked days of protests and rioting in Baltimore.
Prosecutors argued that Lt. Rice, as the highest-ranking officer at the scene, should have at least directed a subordinate officer to secure Gray with a seat belt. Defense attorneys contended that the lieutenant deemed it unsafe to get into the back of the van with an increasingly unruly Gray as a hostile crowd gathered.
Three other officers are scheduled to be tried in Gray’s arrest and death: Officer Garrett Miller beginning July 27, Officer William Porter’s retrial beginning Sept. 6 and Sgt. Alicia White starting Oct. 13.