- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Prosecutors in the trials over the death of Freddie Gray violated the constitutional rights of six Baltimore police officers by filing charges before they had sufficient evidence and failing to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys, according to a complaint that a D.C. law professor filed Tuesday with a Maryland legal board.

John Banzhaf, an activist law professor at George Washington University, says in the complaint he filed with the Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission that the lead prosecutors should be disbarred for, among other things, “having improperly, illegally and unconstitutionally withheld and otherwise failed to turn over to defense counsel exculpatory evidence.” The Washington Times has obtained a copy of the complaint.

Baltimore Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe have led the prosecution in the police trials. In late June, Mr. Banzhaf filed a complaint against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the city’s top prosecutor.

The State’s Attorney’s Office did not respond to repeated emails for comment on the complaint. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and acquitted officers are under a gag order and prohibited from speaking about the trials until all of the cases have been settled.

The Attorney Grievance Commission would not comment on a pending filing.

In his complaint, Mr. Banzhaf claims that Mr. Schatzow and Ms. Bledsoe violated an article in the Maryland Lawyer’s Rules of Professional Conduct requiring a prosecutor not to bring a charge unless it is supported by probable cause.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams, who is presiding over the trials, has acquitted three of the six officers accused of wrongdoing in the arrest and death last year of the 25-year-old black man.

Judge Williams has cited a lack of evidence in the prosecution’s cases, has asked prosecutors why they brought charges and has scolded them for withholding evidence from defense attorneys.

Mr. Banzhaf filed the complaint a day after Lt. Brian Rice was acquitted of all charges in Gray’s death. Lt. Rice was the highest-ranking officer during Gray’s arrest and faced charges of reckless endangerment, misconduct in office and involuntary manslaughter.

Last month, Judge Williams acquitted Officers Eric Nero and Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police van in which Gray’s neck was broken. Officer Goodson faced the most serious charge against the officers — second-degree “depraved heart” murder.

Mr. Banzhaf says in his filing that the prosecutors have been “continuing prosecutions against other officers although — especially in light of detailed findings of fact in two rulings by Judge Barry Williams — there is no longer any basis to reasonably believe that the remaining charges are supported by probable cause, or that there is sufficient admissible evidence to support a conviction.”

Legal analysts said the commission will look at Mr. Banzhaf’s complaint and likely consider sanctions — but not disbarment.

“This is something they very well could look into. They won’t dismiss it out of hand,” said Leonard Gross, a legal ethicist and professor emeritus at Southern Illinois University. “The judge saying there were discovery violations that in and of itself is some basis to move forward.”

Mr. Gross said the likelihood of disbarment is low.

“Prosecutors can get disciplined for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence,” he said. “But disbarment would be highly unusual.”

Georgetown University law professor Michael S. Frisch, a former disciplinary counsel in the District, also said disbarment is unlikely.

“If the allegation is withholding evidence, disbarment is entirely off the table,” said Mr. Frisch, who disclosed that he was Mr. Schatzow’s housemate and fraternity brother in college. “This is generally treated with a slap on the wrist.”

Paul Butler, a Georgetown law professor who has been following the Baltimore police trials, expressed surprise that a complaint had been filed.

“The prosecutors in the Freddie Gray cases behaved no differently from the way prosecutors behave in most cases,” Mr. Butler said. “Prosecutors often overcharge cases and withhold evidence from the defense. It’s curious why a case with police officers as defendants causes some people to be more sympathetic to unfairness in the criminal justice system.”

Police officers handcuffed and shackled Gray but did not secure him in a seat belt when they arrested him on April 12, 2015. He died a week later. Protests and rioting followed his death and funeral in Baltimore.

Still awaiting trial are Officer Garrett Miller on July 27 and Sgt. Alicia White on Oct. 13. Officer William Porter’s retrial begins Sept. 6; his first trial ended in a hung jury in December.

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