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Did Mosby overreach in Freddie Gray case?

P. Kenneth Burns
Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby (at podium/file photo)

  Despite being two days removed from an acquittal of one of the six officers accused of causing Freddie Gray’s death, it was a regular day at Penn North.

Hardly anyone wanted to comment on the not guilty verdict in the trial of police Officer Edward Nero.

Clifford Moore, of South Baltimore, said there was really nothing to discuss.

“Freddie dead man; it’s no coming back from that,” he said.  “What we gonna do, memorialize him; immortalize him by continuously keeping it going on and on?”

Moore said State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby did not go overboard when she charged the officers on a range of charges from misconduct in office to second degree depraved heart murder. He added she was in a difficult position more than a year ago when riots and unrest broke out.

“She had no experience to actually deal with it so she did the best she could; she did what she felt the people would want her to do,” says Moore.

George Washington University Law School professor Stephen Saltzburg says no one will know if Mosby overreached until all six trials are complete.

“What we know is that the judge found that the specific allegations made against this officer were not supported by the evidence that the state had,” he said, referring to Circuit Judge Barry Williams who acquitted Nero of assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct.

“Hindsight would tell you this prosecution should probably not have been brought,” he added.

Nero’s acquittal was the first verdict in the trials.  Coupled with the trial of Officer William Porter that ended in a hung jury in December, the prosecution has yet to win a conviction.

And that’s what has made some wonder about the charges.

David Shapiro, a clinical law professor at Northwestern University’s Law School, says Mosby sticks out because, normally, prosecutors and police departments are on the same team.

“A prosecutor who bucks that trend and takes on a genuinely independent approach and would treat a police officer like any other potential criminal suspect is really something of an anomaly,” Shapiro said, cautioning that no one can read too much into Nero’s acquittal because it was specific for that officer.  And there are still five more trials to go.

The next trial is to be that of Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police van that transported Gray, scheduled for June 6.

“The mere fact that someone is acquitted doesn’t always mean that it was wrong to bring the charges in the first place.”

Franklin Zimring, a professor at Berkley Law School in California who is working on a book about the use of lethal force by police, says while the charges against the officers might not stick; Mosby will not necessarily be blamed for pursuing prosecution. 

“The more ambiguous the police department standards and the more problematic the police department’s procedures, the harder it’s going to be to isolate individual officers who look more blameworthy than the department,” he said.

Zimring added that most of the prosecutors who point a finger at Mosby for overcharging the officers are ones who don’t charge police officer.  And that it could easily be argued that undercharging cops is a problem.