Prosecutors dropped all remaining charges against three Baltimore police officers accused in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in a downtown courtroom on Wednesday morning, concluding one of the most high-profile criminal cases in Baltimore history.
The startling move was an apparent acknowledgment of the unlikelihood of a conviction following the acquittals of three other officers on similar and more serious charges by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, who was expected to preside over the remaining trials as well.
It also means the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby will secure no convictions in the case after more than a year of dogged fighting, against increasingly heavy odds, to hold someone criminally accountable in Gray’s death.
Officer William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury and a mistrial in December, before Williams acquitted Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson and Lt. Brian Rice at bench trials in May, June, and July, respectively.
In a hearing Wednesday meant to start the trial of Officer Garrett Miller, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow told Williams that the state was dropping all charges against Miller, Porter and Sgt. Alicia White.
Porter had been scheduled to be retried in September, and White had been scheduled to be tried in October.
“All of our clients are thrilled with what happened today,” said Catherine Flynn, Miller’s attorney, outside the courthouse.
The officers still face possible administrative discipline. Internal investigations, with the help of outside police agencies, are underway.
Gray, 25, suffered severe spinal cord injuries in the back of the van in April 2015 and died a week after his arrest. His death sparked widespread, peaceful protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson.
At a news conference in West Baltimore, near where Gray was arrested, Mosby defended her decision to bring the charges against the officers, and said that “as a mother,” the decision to drop them was “agonizing.”
But, given Williams’ acquittal of Nero, Goodson and Rice and the likelihood that the remaining officers would also choose bench trials before him, Mosby said she had to acknowledge the “dismal likelihood” that her office would be able to secure a conviction.
“After much thought and prayer it has become clear that without being able to work with an independent investigatory agency from the very start, without having a say in the election of whether cases proceed in front of a judge or jury, without communal oversight of police in this community, without substantive reforms to the current criminal justice system, we could try this case 100 times and cases just like it and we would still end up with the same result,” she said.
She said there is an “inherent bias” whenever “police police themselves.” She said the charges she brought were not an indictment of the entire Baltimore Police Department, but she also broadly condemned the actions and testimony of some officers involved in Gray’s arrest or in the department’s investigation of the incident — alleging “consistent bias” at “every stage.”
She said she is not “anti-police,” but “anti-police brutality.” She also noted the “countless sacrifices” of her prosecutors in the case, including Schatzow and Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe, and said her office will continue to “fight for a fair and equitable justice system for all.”
Gray’s stepfather, Richard Shipley, said family members “stand behind Marilyn and her prosecuting team, and my family is proud to have them represent us.” He said the prosecutors did the “best to their ability.”
Shortly after Mosby’s news conference, the officers, their defense attorneys and leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, the union that represents the officers and paid for their defense, held their own.
Attorney Ivan Bates, who represents White and spoke on behalf of all of the officers and their attorneys, described the last year as a “nightmare” for the officers. He reiterated the defense argument in all of the cases that the officers were justified in their actions. The officers did not speak.
Lt. Gene Ryan, the FOP president, said “justice has been done.” He also described Mosby’s comments at her news conference as “outrageous and uncalled for and simply untrue.”
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, in a statement, defended the department’s investigation into Gray’s death. He also called Mosby’s decision to drop the charges “a wise one” that will help the city heal and move forward.
”As the trials end and this chapter in Baltimore’s history closes, it is important that we collectively resolve to direct our emotions in a constructive way to reduce violence and strengthen citizen partnerships,” Davis said. “Any motives that fall short of that are counterproductive and inconsistent with the values of Baltimoreans.”
In clearing Nero, Goodson and Rice, Williams had repeatedly said that prosecutors presented little or no evidence to support their broader theory in the case — that the officers acted unreasonably, and willfully disregarded their training and general orders, when they decided not to secure Gray in a seat belt in the back of a police transport van, and that the decision directly led to his death.
All of the officers had pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys have said they acted reasonably and professionally, and that Gray’s death was the result of a tragic accident.
Judges generally do not comment on court cases, and Williams declined through a court spokeswoman to comment on the officers’ cases Wednesday afternoon.
The decision Wednesday to drop all charges came during what was expected to be a contentious hearing surrounding the prosecution’s ability to proceed with Miller’s trial without using anything he said on the witness stand in Nero’s trial against him.
Miller had been charged with second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office related to Gray’s arrest. He was compelled to testify at Nero’s trial under a limited form of immunity designed to protect his constitutional right against self-incrimination while freeing him to speak about the events that transpired on the morning of Gray’s arrest. Before Miller’s trial could proceed, prosecutors were required to show that they had not gleaned any evidence or strategic advantage in Miller’s trial from his immunized testimony.
Having dropped the charges, prosecutors avoided taking the stand.