TRNN talks to legal experts about the historic implications of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s efforts to try six officers for the death of Freddie Gray
TAYA GRAHAM: This is Taya Graham and Stephen Janis reporting for the Real News in Baltimore City, Maryland. We’re outside City Hall where we just heard city state attorney Marilyn Mosby tell the world that she is no longer going to go forward with prosecuting the 6 officers involved with the in custody death of Freddie Gray. Stephen, you spoke to legal experts Doug Colbert and A. Dwight Pettit. Can you tell us a little bit about what they shared with you? STEPHEN JANIS: Well what we wanted to do is get some historical context with this case because this is not only unusual in the fact that Ms. Mosby decided to go forward with all these prosecutions but also what she said today in terms of her sort of statement about why she couldn’t go forward about. Some of the problems with police, some of the problems with the investigation conducted by the police. Really what she can say was that the justice system was inherently bias and that was a very profound statement and sort of what we’ve been seeing in the trial but the media had not been reporting. So we wanted to get some people who had some experience with the justice system here in Baltimore. And first let’s go to Marilyn Mosby’s statement. Let’s see a little bit of what she said and then we’ll take you to Doug Colbert and then Dwight Pettit. MARILYN MOSBY: There were individual police officers that were witnesses to the case yet were part of the investigative team. Interrogations that were conducted without asking the most poignant questions. Lead detectives that were completely uncooperative and started a counter investigation to disprove the state’s case by not executing search warrants pertaining to text messages among the police officers involved in the case. Creating videos to disprove the state’s case without our knowledge. Creating notes that were drafted after the case was launched to contradict the medical examiner’s conclusion. Turning these notes over to defense attorneys months prior to turning them over to the state. And yet doing it in the middle of trial. As you can see whether investigating, interrogating, testifying, cooperating, or even complying with the state, we’ve all bore witness to an inherent bias that is a direct result of when police police themselves. GRAHAM: Stephen you mentioned earlier that the mainstream media had missed some really important aspects of the case that Marilyn Mosby and her [prosecutial] staff were trying to put forward. Could you tell some of the things that you feel the mainstream media overlooked? JANIS: Well mostly it would be the inconsistency in the testimony of the officers specifically Officer Porter who said one thing to investigators then said another thing on the stand. I think that was very–really wasn’t covered in any way shape or form. We both saw when officer Nero talked about Freddie Gray sort of moving his hands, waving his hands wildly in the air. GRAHAM: During the time period where he was actually shackled correct? JANIS: Right. And you know then trying to explain to the prosecutors why it happened. Then of course you know the secret meeting they had where they weren’t really observing the van. [Inaud.] paying attention to Freddie Gray but yet coming this conclusion that he was dangerous. So you know a lot of those elements really added up to something you–really a narrative that never really worked its way into the mainstream coverage of this. So I think that’s what we wanted to sort of get to when we talked to the experts. Well why don’t you talk about Marilyn Mosby literally said the inherent bias of the criminal justice system. What do you think she meant and do you think that’s a fair criticism? DOUG COLBERT: Well all we have to do is look at the data to appreciate the near impossibility of convicting a police officer for homicide committed in the line of duty. So cross the country and this is not just Baltimore but throughout the country. If there are roughly 10,000 people who’ve been killed in the line of duty, about 1,000 people a year and there’s only 54 police officers who are charged with crimes over this 10-year period. And only 4 of them were convicted. Prosecutors rely on police to make their cases and charges stick. And when you don’t have the full cooperation of police when you have individual officers who are taking the witness stand and making use of every opportunity to say things that are going to be helpful to the defendant well that’s simply something that’s not done of the average person. But it will be done for the police defendant. JANIS: Did we just see another piece of history today with Marilyn Mosby coming out and just sort of, a prosecutor coming out and sort of indicting the system itself. Was that another piece of history that you’ve been talking about? COLBERT: Well that was so refreshing in my view about the way this case is being handled. Usually the prosecutor will line up with the established powers and will present a consolidated perspective. And what we’re seeing here is a prosecutor who’s recognizing and accepting the court’s verdict. But at the same time suggesting that had she gotten more cooperation from the police or even if a jury had been involved in this process the result may well have been different. JANIS: Do you believe in the assessment that there’s an inherent bias towards prosecuting a police officer? A. DWIGHT PETTIT: Oh no question about it. I think when you consider that the law that has developed in terms of protecting police officers are the laws that give the police the inherent right to chase without probable cause articulable level suspicion. The law that gives rise and allows the police to search a person under Terry vs. Ohio with reasonable articulable little suspicion and no probable cause. The new decision that just came down from the Supreme Court last week which gives the police the opportunity to search your vehicle and if they later determines to be a warrant, the warrant can serve as probably cause with no probable cause existed. All these laws and terms are not just on criminal aspect but civil and all have developed in favor of the police. I’ve won 2 multi-million dollar cases as you know. State won for 100 million and another one for 7 million even though we didn’t collect. But I’ve lost so many that it hurt so deeply because I helped the families bury the young men. And I saw cases which were so tragic in the facts and when we did the depositions where the officers have been promoted instead of being chastised or disciplined or brought to accountability. I’ve seen that over and over and over. JANIS: [Inaud.] Do the officers have probable cause to stop Freddie Gray. PETTIT: It was a case that was never addressed. That question was never addressed. [Barlile] I think is the case out of Illinois. Said they had reasonable suspicion to chase him in a high crime area when he ran. Cherry vs. Ohio says they have articulable suspicion to pat search him down for a weapon for the safety of the officer. Nobody talks about the fact that it was never determined what was the probable cause for the arrest. How did he get in the position that he was in with a knee in the back of his neck on his stomach, being arrested when no crime had been committed? And if the court says the knife was not discovered until after the arrest, what was the probable cause of the arrest? The world was still waiting for that to be answered in my opinion. We thought it was going to be answered in the former trials. So this trial, this was the arresting officer and this was the only issue that had not been addressed. Where was the probable cause for the arrest? And the answer to your question, I don’t think it’s ever been answered and it may never will be.