Pre-trial Hearings for Freddie Gray Case Start Wednesday

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Top civil rights attorney Dwight A. Pettit says he has turned over records from past wrongful death suits involving police to the Justice Department’s civil rights division

A. DWIGHT PETTTIT: When the Justice Department came in they couldn’t shut me up. I followed them out the door.

STEPHEN JANIS, TRNN: In a city with the second-highest number of police per capita no one has had a more acute front row seat on the consequences of Baltimore’s penchant for law enforcement than A. Dwight Pettit. The veteran civil rights attorney has been the city’s top litigator of police brutality lawsuits for decades, which is why he’s paying close attention to the upcoming pre-trial legal maneuvers in the case against six Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray died in a police van shortly after he was arrested in April, and Pettit says several key motions could play a critical role in the final verdict.

PETTIT: I’ve always believed that the defense in this particular instance has a very triable case. This is by no means a slam dunk.

JANIS: Of particular importance, he believes, is a defense motion asking Judge Barry Williams to move the trial outside the city.

PETTIT: That’s the primary motion. Because if the case is removed from Baltimore City to any other jurisdiction except Prince George’s County, then I think the case is over.

JANIS: A request Pettit thinks will not succeed.

PETTIT: And they are getting publicity. And with the publicity the defense has so, been so prejudiced that you can’t find an impartial jury in Baltimore City, and I think that insults the intelligence of the citizenry of Baltimore City.

JANIS: But there is also much riding on the request from the defense that the six defendants face trial separately instead of in two groups of two and four as prosecutors prefer, another decision that could weigh heavily upon guilt or innocence.

PETTIT: The other major motions will be the severance issue. And that is going to be, in my opinion, dictated a lot by law, not by the judge’s discretion.

JANIS: But even as he says he is unsure about the outcome of the case, Pettit says the fight against police brutality is making progress regardless, particularly in the form of the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation, a probe that has turned to him for information which he revealed publicly for the first time to the Real News Network.

PETTIT: I had a total list put together for them. There was about two or three of them, I must have talked to them I guess over a period of a week or so, mostly by telephone.

JANIS: What was your main message to them, in terms of your overall perspective?

PETTIT: That it has gotten progressively worse. And until–same thing I”m telling you. Until the advent of technology and cameras and what have you, there was just basically outright open season murder on particularly young black men.

JANIS: Pettit has turned over 35 past cases of police-involved killings to federal authorities and consented to several interviews with investigators. State Delegate Jill Carter too has been a leader in the fight against police brutality. During the height of the city’s use of mass arrests under the leadership of then-Mayor Martin O’Malley, Carter too fought for change in a town thoroughly committed to policing. She agrees with Pettit that the judge will not move the case outside of Baltimore.

JILL P. CARTER: I think that Judge Williams understands the significance of this case being handled in Baltimore and what it means to the overall Baltimore family.

JANIS: But is also concerned that city leaders are stirring up tensions prior to the trial.

CARTER: [And it’s then that] the entire collaborative effort between law enforcement and the mayor’s office to not only prepare for what they call a riot and increase in riot gear and training. Their public announcement of it was, I think is probably even worse than their preparation. I think it’s the wrong way to go.

JANIS: Instead of changing policies that might heal a city that is suffering from the wounds of the past.

This is Stephen Janis and Taya Graham reporting for the Real News Network in Baltimore.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.