Almost two and a half years after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and over a year after successive “not guilty” verdicts in state court, a Department of Justice statement unceremoniously announced the end of its investigation, without prosecution. The statement concludes, “the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that officers involved in Gray’s arrest “willfully violated” his civil rights.
Any reasonable person has to wonder why it took two and a half years for a small army of federal investigators and prosecutors to resolve what had been long concluded by a local judge – himself a former DOJ Civil Rights Division attorney – who heard the cases, as well as the humiliated prosecutor who brought the state charges.
Freddie Gray was an inveterate low-level criminal in the streets of Baltimore. In April 2015, Gray fled after making eye contact with a uniformed police lieutenant engaging in a drug deterrence patrol. Gray was briefly chased and stopped by responding officers. When patted down, police discovered a suspected illegal switchblade knife and arrested Gray.
Gray, in street parlance, began “acting the fool” by flailing, hollering and bringing attention to his detention and quickly drew a crowd. He was secured in a police wagon, which made additional stops to both better secure him and to check on him. By the wagon’s final stop, Gray had been critically injured. He was hospitalized and died within days, the result of fatal neck injuries. Not long afterward, parts of Baltimore erupted in rioting, arson, looting, and assaults on law enforcement.
Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, didn’t waste time involving her Justice Department in the case: just two weeks after the incident, she announced a DOJ criminal civil rights investigation into Gray’s death.
Baltimore States Attorney Marilyn Mosby did not waste any time either. She proclaimed her office was taking over the investigation before the Baltimore Police inquiry into Gray’s death was complete. Within several days after receiving the autopsy report, she charged all six officers involved with the arrest and transport of Gray with an array of crimes, including “depraved heart murder.”
In early 2016, the accused officers began lining up for trials before Baltimore associate judge Barry G. Williams, a former, seasoned, DOJ Civil Rights Division attorney.
Officer William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury and Judge Williams declared a mistrial. Then, in three successive bench trials before him, the judge took a wrecking ball to the prosecution, dismissing each and every count against Officer Ed Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson, and Lt. Brian Rice.
Full disclosure: my organization raised funds and attended some of the trials in support of the officers and the Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore. We welcomed Judge Williams’ rulings and judgments as he systematically dismantled the prosecution’s theories and allegations.
The judge, one who could safely be assumed to be no friend of police excesses, delivered clear, reasoned verdicts of not guilty on every hollow count of each of the three cases. Shortly after the third acquittal, States Attorney Mosby signaled surrender and dismissed all remaining charges.
Now, with the passing of more than a year after the politically-driven Marilyn Mosby recognized the harsh reality of building a criminal case in little more than animosity and misguided anti-police sentiment, the U.S. Department of Justice announces it has no reason to pursue federal civil rights charges against the officers.
One must wonder exactly which theories and which facts the DOJ has been doggedly pursuing in the last year, or whether there were any at all? The very likely answer is that there were none.
This announcement is, perhaps, simply the latest piece of evidence about the Justice Department that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has inherited. Consider the deeply entrenched Obama/Holder era “career” prosecutors within the Civil Rights Division who desperately worked to bring charges against hapless George Zimmerman in the Treyvon Martin matter in Florida. Or think about the misguided careerists embedded within DOJ who can discuss and debate the nuances of a case while ensconced in in their sterile government cubicles while missing, or choosing to ignore, the grittier reality faced daily by cops on the street in cities across America.
The words of the DOJ announcement Tuesday that, “the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” should embarrass Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The truth is that the evidence against any of the six was insufficient to prove anything at all.
But there is plenty of evidence that the new AG needs to clean house in his Civil Rights Division. Here, as in Ferguson, too many career Justice Department lawyers have too much time to hang a sword over the heads of local police for no good purpose.
Ron Hosko is president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and a former FBI assistant director.