In the first of a three-part interview, Ivan Bates, who defended one of the officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death and has fought an on-going battle with the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, talks about his bid to be top prosecutor
BAYNARD WOODS: For the Real News, I’m Baynard Woods.
In Baltimore, a city that regularly racks up more than 300 homicides and is wracked by police corruption scandals, the office of State’s Attorney is particularly important. We’re going to be sitting down over the next weeks with all of the candidates running for the office. Four years ago Marilyn Mosby won that seat shortly before Freddie Gray died in police custody.
With me today is Ivan Bates, a defense attorney who defended one of the six officers that she brought to trial on that case. Bates is a defense attorney, but before that he was a homicide prosecutor and was also a military veteran. Welcome, Ivan.
IVAN BATES: Thank you very much. Glad to be here.
BAYNARD WOODS: So I want to talk a little bit about the trajectory from Freddie Gray to the Gun Trace Task Force in the city. So we had right after the last state’s attorney took office. We had Freddie Gray, a 25 year old African-American man die in police custody in a way that that really captured the national attention. And you defended one of those officers, Alicia White, who never ended up making it to trial, so you didn’t didn’t try one of the cases. But what made you decide to take that case? You’re on the other side of Mosby, who’s the incumbent then, and again on the other side of her. Now, what made you decide to take that case?
IVAN BATES: When you sit down and look at what happened to Mr. Gray, without a doubt it’s a tragedy. Without a doubt.
But for me, when Sergeant White came in to talk I didn’t see an officer, I saw a black woman. I saw a black woman who’s faced the system like so many of my clients, predominately African-American, and the system doesn’t treat them fairly. We sat down and listened to her and told, she told us her story. I realized instantly that she wasn’t going to be treated fairly.
Her story was that she was a witness. She was an individual that made a telephone call to try to save Mr. Gray’s life. The ambulance went to the wrong location. Those were the facts that involved Sergeant Alicia White. She was an individual that did everything she could to try to save Mr. Gray’s life. And for me it was about doing what was right. One of the things that people didn’t realize is that remember the young man who was beaten up by the police, the video, we saw him being beaten up and Greenmount Avenue. We already had a lawsuit against Baltimore City Police Department suing them, as we had done for a number of other clients. So it wasn’t as if I’m protecting the police. I was protecting the rights of a citizen.
BAYNARD WOODS: One of the complaints that a number of people who are on the scene that day made was that the charges that were brought by the State’s Attorney’s Office really focused on the black officers, while sort of letting the white officers, who are the ones who actually took Gray down and arrested him, off. Is that what you mean when you saw White as a black woman like many of your clients?
IVAN BATES: Well, it is, but I saw the person. I saw an individual that’s born and raised in Baltimore City, a person that went to school in Baltimore City, a person that works within Baltimore City, a person whose mom, aunt and uncles and friends are in Baltimore City. I saw citizen like I see so many of my other clients. I also recognize when I saw the trial team that the current state’s attorney put together, neither one of the head prosecutors had ever prosecuted a murder. I had experience because I’ve been doing this for 23 years. I knew that they had not done in their investigation. I could tell that this was the case that they prosecuted they charged, to me, it was about the politics. It wasn’t about getting the true justice. And so for me I needed to stand up for this black woman that I saw, that I saw this system going against her. No different than so many of my other clients.
BAYNARD WOODS: Had you been on the other side of that aisle, where you want to be on the other side of the bar, and had been the prosecutor at that time, do you think you would have brought any charges?
IVAN BATES: I think you had opportunity to bring some. But the problem is the investigation wasn’t finished. Any time you do a complex investigation, especially dealing with a homicide, it can take four, five, six months. There were information that we received from the investigation where there are witnesses that should have been interviewed, but because of the rush to judgment by the State’s Attorney’s Office they never were. So you’d have had additional information to put together a very good case. No, our current state’s attorney has never, ever prosecuted or been involved in a homicide, ever.
And when you have that lack of experience you just go and run to do anything. That was the case that if you’re going to bring a case like that in if the police are, you believe there’s probable cause, and you can proceed against the police, then we have to start winning. That was the case that Baltimore should have been able to win. But you couldn’t because one, there was a rush to judgment. Two, there was no experience. And number three, you didn’t understand the evidence that you had.
Remember, the state’s theory was never that the incident happened outside the van. The state’s theory was that the incident happened inside the van, when there were no witnesses and nobody could see what happened. That was the state’s attorney’s theory. So to me, they never ever put together a case that they really wanted to win.
BAYNARD WOODS: Right. I mean, at that time she was really seen as a hero by many looking at police reform, and now things have really changed after the Gun Trace Task Force trials. And you and many others in the defense bar have accused her office of looking the other way, and trying to call cases with just ignoring that any of the corrupt officers were involved in the arrest. I mean, you’ve represented many of the people who came forth in trial as either being subpoenaed, or otherwise who were victims of the Gun Trace Task Force. It’s almost like a mirror image. Now can you talk a little bit about you’ve especially been going with Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, the main culprit in that task force for a long time. Talk a little bit about that.
IVAN BATES: Exactly. Even before 2010, 2003, 2004 Sergeant Wayne Jenkins and Officer Wilson, they came to my attention in a federal case that I did with my mentor, Ken Ravenal. And that’s the first time that I realized that they were not credible. Judge Andre Davis, who is now the city solicitor, threw the case out and had issues with their credibility. In 2010 I represented a young man named Jamal Walker, Jamal Walker and his wife. Through an individual threw a party, raised some money. And Wayne Jenkins sees him when he’s going to deposit the money. All of a sudden, Wayne Jenkins says the little bag of marijuana, and then boom, that gives him what he says is probable cause to go in the car. They steal twenty thousand dollars and they go to the house. When they go to the house they break into the house, and she presses her alarm. Burglary alarm. And from there the real officers, as I call them, respond. And Wayne Jenkins sends them away.
That’s when I realized just who I was dealing with with Sergeant Wayne Jenkins. For the next seven years I waged a personal battle against Sergeant Wayne Jenkins, and eventually under [inaudible] we were able to show that hey Wayne Jenkins shouldn’t be called. Then under Gregg Bernstein, the prior state’s attorney, we were able to sit down and say, hey, Wayne Jenkins shouldn’t be called, and he wasn’t calling him. Then soon as Gregg Bernstein leaves, and the one prosecutor who knew that Wayne Jenkins was dirty and made sure they would not be called, her name was Molly Webb, when she leaves that office then all of a sudden the floodgates open.
The state’s attorney’s office allows Sergeant Wayne Jenkins to come back on the street and terrorize the individuals that were there. Everybody who was involved in the criminal justice system knew this. There were documents that were from, departmental documents from prosecutors saying that these officers shouldn’t be trusted. There are e-mails. Their IAD files had information showing that they had prior conviction for giving false statements. That’s what you had of Officer [Rayam].
So the State’s Attorney’s Office had this material. What they began to do was say, hey, remember, Freddie Gray, after the incidents with Freddie Gray and the unrest, officers weren’t, quote unquote, making the arrest. You need to have what, a conviction rate, to be able to run. The only individuals going out there and making arrests, quote unquote, are these officers, this Gun Trace Task Force. We want to have a conviction rate so I can say I have a 92 percent conviction rate. So guess what. Now we have these officers out there making arrests. So we’re going to look the other way, because the ends justify the means. And that’s what you began to see all over again.
BAYNARD WOODS: So what would you do differently as a prosecutor to deal with dirty cops? We’ll come and talk about prosecuting other cases in a little while. But it is part of the job of the of the state’s attorney. What would you do in order to deal with these officers?
IVAN BATES: Well, the first thing I wouldn’t, I definitely wouldn’t do, I would not enter the deal that the current state’s attorney has decided to do, to say hey, if you’re a dirty cop, I want you to self report.
I want you to think about that for a second. If you are a dirty cop, self report. Tell us you’re a bad cop. Do you honestly think that’s going to happen? So you cannot, one, give up the power. And so you have to make sure keep the power. So what will we do? A lot of times the prosecutors and police work close together.
What we need to do is this. Let’s take money from two, for two state’s attorney positions. Let’s take that money and let’s take money from the Baltimore City Police Department. Let’s fund three investigator positions, two state’s attorney positions, and let’s move them over to the Department of Civil Rights Enforcement, over there. And let’s put them in an office so they can do a neutral, independent investigation with the officers themselves, and therefore they don’t have those relationships. They’re just doing their job. They’re not influenced by anybody, they’re not seeing the officers. They’re not being influenced by the state’s attorney or the prosecutors that need these officers for a case. They’re able to do their job and when they find something then they give it to us.
And at that moment in time it comes upon the state’s attorney to really give that information to the defense, to allow the defense to make sure that they are on equal footing, so that the case can be properly prepared. And if you find out that the offices are dirty and they’re corrupt, we cannot call them. If they’re being investigated let’s put them on the sidelines. Give them a time out. Let’s not call them for a while. But the sooner we know that the better, because then we’re not dismissing 100 cases.
We’re only worried about a few cases at that moment in time. We have to be proactive instead of being reactive.
BAYNARD WOODS: Well, great. I think this is a good point to shift to talk some more about, in the next segment to talk some more about reform, police reform and criminal justice reform in the States Attorney’s Office. With Ivan Bates for the Real News, I’m Baynard Woods.