Baltimore prosecutors have dropped all remaining charges against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.
The surprise announcement Wednesday comes after four trials that ended with no conviction, and means there will likely be no criminal accountability over Gray’s death. Gray, a 25-year-old African American man, sustained fatal injuries in the back of a police van in April 2015.
Video of Gray’s arrest that showed officers dragging a screaming Gray on the ground drew international outrage. The city erupted in weeks of unrest, including numerous mass demonstrations against police brutality and a day of rioting.
People thought the city was in store for much worse before the young African American prosecutor Marilyn Mosby announced charges against six of the officers, causing people who had been protesting to celebrate in the streets.
After months of failure to secure a conviction, many activists had lost faith in Mosby’s strategy, culminating in Wednesday’s announcement to drop the charges.
But in an emotional press conference Wednesday, Mosby pinned blame for the unsuccessful prosecution on “systemic and inherent problems” with the police investigation.
“We do not believe Freddie Gray killed himself,” she declared.
With the trials halted, a gag order was lifted that allowed Mosby to speak freely for the first time about the police role in the prosecution.
“Whether investigating, interrogating, testifying, cooperating or even complying with the state we all bore witness to an inherent bias that is a direct result of when police police themselves,” Mosby said.
She cited officers who were both witnesses in the case and part of the investigative team, and lead detectives who were “completely uncooperative” and “started a counter-investigation to disprove the state’s case”.
Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police, called Mosby’s claims “outrageous, uncalled for, and simply not true” in a subsequent press conference.
Mosby set the trial in the context of a national dialogue surrounding police brutality.
“Baltimore finds itself at the epicenter of a national conflict between urban and rural populations of color and the law enforcement agencies that are sworn to protect and serve them,” Mosby acknowledged. “It is a struggle that strikes at the basic ideas of self-determination, justice, equality, and sadly, humanity in America.”
But, as prosecutor, she said it was her job to focus on bringing justice to Gray and his family.
“However fitting it is for observers to use the untimely death of Freddie Carlos Gray Jr as a barometer of our nation’s progress on police brutality, my professional role in this matter is plain: to seek justice on behalf of an innocent 25-year-old man who was unreasonably taken into custody after fleeing in his neighborhood, which just happens to be a high-crime neighborhood, and had his spine partially severed in the back of a Baltimore police wagon,” she said.
The crowd chanted “We’re with you” before and after the embattled prosecutor spoke, cheering her on as she addressed the pain of Gray’s mother and stepfather, who were present.
“No matter how problematic and troublesome it has been for my office, my prosecutors, my family and me personally, it pales in comparison to what mothers and fathers all across this country – specifically Freddie Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden, or Richard Shipley, Freddie Gray’s stepfather – go through on a daily basis knowing their son’s mere decision to run from the police proved to be a lethal one,” she said.
After Mosby spoke, a crowd gathered around Darden, hugging her and offering condolences.
“They lied and I know they lied and they killed him,” Darden said. The family received a $6.4m settlement from the city.
Prosecutors were set to move forward Wednesday morning with hearings in the case against Garrett Miller, the officer who physically arrested Gray on 15 April 2015.
But instead, chief deputy state’s attorney Michael Schatzow announced that the state was going to offer a “nolle prosequi” disposition – dropping the charges not only against officer Miller but against all the officers involved in the Gray case. The announcement ends planned trials for three remaining officers.
The first trial of officer William Porter ended with a hung jury. The next three officers were acquitted on all charges after bench trials by Judge Barry Williams: Lt Brian Rice, the highest ranking officer; Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van, who faced the most serious charge of second-degree murder; and Edward Nero, another officer involved in arresting Gray.
The three trials remaining were against Miller, whose case was to begin Wednesday, Sgt Alicia White, and a retrial for Porter.