Leadership Conflict and Challenges Posed by the Freddie Gray Investigation
On the morning of April 12, 2015, Baltimore citizen Freddie Gray died while being transported in police custody after being arrested for possession of an illegal ?switch blade? style knife. The subsequent investigation into the cause of and circumstances surrounding Mr. Gray?s death, as well as the attempted prosecution thereof, highlighted an egregious rift between law enforcement and state attorneys, perpetuated by gross failures and shortcomings in prosecutorial leadership and judgment. As the state attorney and head prosecutor responsible for the facilitation of justice in Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby?s reckless and prejudicial filing of criminal charges against the six Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers involved in Mr. Gray?s arrest not only ended in failure, but represented a catastrophic and inexcusable leadership failure, which has alarmingly become increasingly pervasive in the criminal justice system.
As background on this incident, according to a news conference transcript of Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Anthony Batts (2015), at around 8:39 a.m. on the morning of April 12, 2015, Mr. Gray encountered BPD officers Brian W. Rice, Edward Nero and Garrett E. Miller at the 1600 block of North Avenue, Baltimore, MD, at which time he fled on foot without provocation. Commissioner Batts (2015) stated the officers pursued Mr. Gray, who was then apprehended near the 1700 block of Presbury Street, Baltimore, MD. Commissioner Batts (2015) related, upon being searched by the officers, Mr. Gray was found to be in possession of a spring-operated knife, identified as being unlawful to possess under Baltimore city statutes. Commissioner Batts (2015) stated, at that point, Mr. Gray was placed under arrest and a police van, driven by BPD Officer Caesar Goodson, arrived to transport him to the county detainment facility, as Officers Rice, Nero and Miller had been patrolling on bicycles. According to Brandon Lugo (2016) in his article, ?Timeline: Freddie Gray?s Arrest to His Fatal Spinal Cord Injury?, while attempting to place Mr. Gray into the van Mr. Gray was uncooperative, moving erratically, and violent, causing officers to place him on his stomach in a prone position until the van arrived. Lugo (2016) related, once placed into the van, Mr. Gray continued to act erratically, flailing his extremities and causing officers to forego securing Mr. Gray with a seatbelt, choosing instead to shackle his ankles and place him on his stomach on the floor of the van. Lugo (2015) related, at some point during the subsequent drive to the county detention facility, Mr. Gray became unresponsive and stopped breathing, resulting in medical services being called and Mr. Gray being admitted into the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was later pronounced deceased. Lugo (2016) related the autopsy report subsequently published by the Maryland State Medical Examiner cited the cause of Mr. Gray?s death to be the severing of his spinal cord caused by trauma, and classified the manner of Mr. Gray?s death as homicide. These findings, coupled with witness accounts that excessive force was used against Mr. Gray to affect his arrest, prompted a hailstorm of public outcry against the BPD and the officers involved in the incident, with the popular assertion being that those officers were directly responsible for his death. Advocacy groups and protesters immediately called for the officers? prosecution and imprisonment, citing the incident as an example of police brutality and racism.
Shortly after the outbreak of public condemnation, Mosby reinforced that the circumstances of Mr. Gray?s death were being vigorously investigated and passionately announced that her office would seek justice on his behalf. Less than one month later, on May 1, 2015, Mosby held a press briefing wherein she announced criminal charges, ranging from ?Depraved Heart Murder? and manslaughter to reckless endangerment, were being filed against all six BPD officers involved in the incident, stating ??I have heard your calls for no justice, no peace. However your peace is sincerely needed while I work to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.? As the cases against the individual officers were brought before trial and more details about the investigation became public, however, it became evident that Mosby had levied charges without justification or even close to a reasonable amount of supporting evidence of criminal culpability. Testimony from detectives and other officials associated with the case revealed Mosby?s office inappropriately and prejudicially infused itself into the BPD?s investigation, withheld evidence from the officers? attorneys, omitted and manipulated narratives of investigative findings, and attempted to have investigators removed from the case when they were deemed adversarial to Mosby?s seemingly pre-determined conclusions. In a Baltimore Sun article concerning testimony from Detective Dawnyell Taylor at Officer Goodson?s trial, Justin Fenton (2016) related Detective Taylor?s concerns about the prosecution?s presentation of facts, testimony and evidence. Fenton (2016) stated Detective Taylor said, when she went to testify at the grand jury hearing for Officer Goodson, the prosecutors did not have her answer any questions, instead having her read a typed narrative concerning the findings of the BPD homicide investigation, wherein Detective Taylor said facts were related in a misleading manner and seemingly intentionally misrepresented. Fenton (2016) related Detective Taylor stated ?As I read over the narrative it had several things that I found to be inconsistent with our investigation? and ?I thought the statements in the narrative were misquoted.? Fenton (2016) also stated Detective Taylor testified that she provided her case notes to Officer Goodson?s defense attorneys, after prosecutors declined to collect them from her.
Detective Taylor?s account of events and testimony at trial were only one example of conflicts between the BPD and Mosby?s office throughout the investigation and subsequent prosecutions, with police officials at all levels of leadership feeling as though Mosby was undermining their investigation and overstepping her grounds as an objective evaluator of fact. This reality was further realized through the acquittal of Officers Rice, Goodson, White, Miller and Nero, and hung jury in Officer Porter?s trial. The cases presented in each trial made it clear that criminal charges should never have been filed against any of the officers in the first place, and that the cases were pursued for reasons which were no way correlated to the truth or probable cause, namely Mosby?s political agenda.
In order to further illustrate and understand the political impetus of Mosby?s personal crusade to prosecute the officers involved in the incident with Mr. Gray it is important to understand the socio-political environment and public disposition toward law enforcement. Mr. Gray?s death came as just one of several black males in connection with interactions with police, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and numerous others, each of which had generated mass protests against police and seemingly nationwide skepticism of police tactics and treatment of black males. By the date of Mr. Gray?s arrest and untimely death, every police-related death of a black male became a high-profile political issue for the police departments, attorney?s offices, mayor?s and governor?s offices associated with them, and even gained a great deal of attention and input from the Department of Justice and the White House. Because of this, law enforcement and prosecutorial leaders in particular were put under a great deal of public pressure and scrutiny from their superiors, with the popular course of action being to condemn the police officers involved and seek charges against them, regardless if that course of action was based on prosecutorial merit or satisfaction of the elements of a crime. Under that context, Mosby?s decision-making and determination to charge the BPD officers without sufficient evidence and even before the completion of a criminal investigation makes it clear that her actions as a law enforcement official and, more egregiously, a leader relied upon to make sound and objective decisions, were based on popular demand, political agenda and personal bias.
In conclusion, like any other institution, the success and integrity of the criminal justice system depend largely on the people that comprise it, namely its leadership. When the decisions of those leaders are based on bias, popular opinion or personal gain the system fails to achieve its purpose, which is the achievement of the truth and justice. While her intentions may have initially been benevolent, Marilyn Mosby?s actions and decisions as Baltimore?s senior ranking prosecutor and de facto chief law enforcement official concerning the investigation of Freddie Gray?s arrest and subsequent death represented the dangers and damage caused by leaders who allow political maneuvering, rather than an earnest and unbiased search for the truth, to dictate their actions.
Batts, A. (2015). Anthony Batts, Commissioner, Baltimore Police Department, Speaks at News Conference on Investigation Into Freddie Gray?s Death. Political/Congressional Transcript Wire, Business Essentials, Nov. 2016. Retrieved from http://no.ga;egroup.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/essentials/article.GALE%7CA411680102/f32ed8e32c8e866a3abfb900dc121558?u=umd_umuc
Mosby, M (2015). Marilyn J. Mosby, Baltimore State?s Attorney, delivers remarks on Freddie Gray investigation. Washington Newsmaker Transcript Database, May 2015. Retrieved from http://bi.galegroup.com.ezproxy.umuc.edu/essentials/article/GALE%7CA412042232/12a7335923b216b5bce664a13809959b?u=umd_umuc
Fenton, J. (2016). Police Detective says misleading narrative presented to grand jury in Freddie Gray case, records show. Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-taylor-grand-jury-freddie-gray-20160625-story.html
Lugo, B. (2016). Timeline: Freddie Gray?s Arrest to His Fatal Spinal Cord Injury. CBS Baltimore, Baltimore, MD. Retrieved from http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2016/06/23/timeline-freddie-grays-arrest-to-his-fatal-spinal-cord-injury/