The news that Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped the remaining cases against three officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray was expected by many. Some were relieved it was over and the city could move forward, while others were dissatisfied no police officers were convicted of criminal charges in a death that resulted from injuries Gray sustained while in police custody.
“We were not surprised nor were most other people in Baltimore because of the direction things were headed,” said Molly Amster, Baltimore director for Jews United for Justice. “I think it’s certainly disappointing. Freddie Gray didn’t kill himself and I think this is more a reflection of the problems with our existing laws and the criminal justice system.”
The six officers who were charged remain on administrative leave and may return to patrolling if ongoing internal reviews determine they did not break department policy.
In a news conference announcing the dropping of the remaining cases, Mosby criticized the judge, the investigators and police for how the cases were handled. Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised Mosby’s decision, but defended the investigation. Former commissioner Anthony Batts, who was fired in July 2015 following the city’s unrest and soaring homicide rate, defended the officers and called Mosby “incompetent and vindictive.”
Baltimore City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (D-District 5) said Mosby was “critical of everything but her office.”
Spector said she was relieved.
Whatever progress is made doesn’t even compare to what still needs to be done.” — Howard Libit, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director
“Hopefully this will put the whole situation to rest,” she said. “I’ll wait to see what the fallout is.”
She said that while she’s confident there will be better police practices as a result of the issues that came up during the trials, she’s worried police officers won’t be respected and that recruitment will become more difficult.
Warren Alperstein, a criminal defense, workers’ compensation and personal injury lawyer who was a prosecutor in Baltimore City, said officers he represents are “deeply troubled” by the events.
“They are now afraid and reluctant to approach individuals who they suspect are involved in criminal activity for fear that if the officers have physical contact with them, albeit for good faith reasons, there is a real possibility, as they have witnessed, that they will be prosecuted,” he said. “And unfortunately this has resulted in a chilling affect on the officers performing their duties.”
“The citizens of Baltimore City are the ones that actually lose,” he said.
Alperstein said that he never thought any of the officers should have been charged in the first place.
“Accidents can happen, but that does not automatically mean that the individuals who encounter the victim are culpable of a crime,” he said, “and the evidence in this case and like any other case in the United Stats has to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wayne Cohen, a law professor at George Washington University for 25 years, agreed the cases were “thin at the outset.”
“I think [Mosby has] had a lot of pressure and will continue to have a lot of pressure regarding the cases, specifically whether they should have been brought in the first place,” he said, “and Freddie Gray’s death, while a terrible tragedy … may not have risen to the point of criminal charges.”
He said there have already been policy and procedural changes enacted and there will hopefully be more coming. “Even though there have not been convictions, we’ll still have a system that will function better.”
On a better functioning system, Amster said, “The most important thing beyond individual responsibility is our collective responsibility to implement the changes that we won in Annapolis in 2016.”
She is referring to a new law that allows civilian participation on police trial boards. The issue, as she sees it, is that even if the mayor and city council were to enact this change, the Fraternal Order of Police could block the composition of the trial board.
“We hope that the police and the mayor will negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement that will allow for that change,” she said.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said that there are broader issues at play other than the trials, such as the attention that has been brought to Baltimore’s underserved and underinvested communities.
“As a Jewish community, we’ve always had a lot of relationships with different communities, different faiths, across the city and region and we’ve always tried to work in partnership with them,” he said. “A lot of our agencies have tried to redouble our efforts and ask the question, ‘what more can we do to help?’”
He’s already seen more partnerships between synagogues and churches, and other organizations in the community such as LifeBridge Health looking to expand community outreach. But there is more work to do, he said.
“The broader systemic changes that are needed that have been spotlighted out of this,” he said, “whatever progress is made doesn’t even compare to what still needs to be done.”