Freddie Gray case: lifting of gag order could reveal new information

Evidence previously withheld under court order, including texts between police officers, could be released now that remaining charges have been dropped

The Freddie Gray case was officially closed in Baltimore on Wednesday when the state dropped all remaining charges against the police officers charged in the 25-year-olds death last April.

But the close of one of the most closely watched police brutality cases, which ended without a single conviction, may mark the start of vigorous public litigation, with the potential to unleash new information about what happened the day of Grays arrest and how the cases unfolded.

A gag order had prohibited the lawyers from discussing the case and choked off access to evidence. That order was lifted on Wednesday, spurring immediate new allegations from both sides of the case.

Chief prosecutor Marilyn Mosby has accused the officers charged with investigating the case of actively trying to thwart it. Defense lawyers allege that on the morning of Grays arrest, he and his friend had been selling drugs. They also allege the officers exchanged text messages that morning which, if revealed, could have been relevant to the case.

The death of Gray, an African American man who was apprehended after running from the police on 15 April 2015, came at a time when the nation was already struggling with the deaths of other black males Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice at the hands of police. Prosecutors had failed to bring charges in all of those cases. Baltimore had protested against each of those decisions, taking over streets and highways and civic events.

But when it happened in Baltimore, in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city, the protests eventually turned to riot. Windows were smashed and a pharmacy burned. Stores were looted. A curfew was established and the national guard patrolled the streets along with police forces from dozens of jurisdictions.

Mosbys fiery announcement that she would bring criminal charges against six officers quelled the city.

The
The six Baltimore police officers: Caesar Goodson, Edward Nero, Garrett E Miller (top L-R), Officer William Porter, Lt Brian Rice, Sgt Alicia White. Photograph: Reuters

On Wednesday, after activists lost faith over the many months of trials with no conviction, Mosby revived her fiery rhetoric this time with another message: a public charge that individual police officers were to blame for the way the cases turned out.

Unlike with other cases where prosecution works closely with police to investigate what actually occurred, what we realized very early on in this case is that police investigating police, whether their friends or merely their colleagues, is problematic, she said. There was a reluctance and an obvious bias that was consistently exemplified not by the entire Baltimore police department but by individuals within the Baltimore police department at every stage of the investigation which became blatantly apparent in the subsequent trials.

This was the first time since October, when Judge Barry Williams imposed the gag order, that Mosby has been able to speak of the case at all. And new bits of evidence, which were not permitted in court, began to dribble out.

Mosby suggested, for instance, that there were text messages between the officers for which investigators had failed to get a warrant.

But soon after Mosbys press conference ended, all six of the officers and their lawyers went to the office of Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 3 the police union that paid for the defense for their own press conference, which, in turn lambasted Mosby, and said her office had failed to get a proper warrant for the messages.

Thats a mistake the states attorneys office made and for some reason theyre angry about that, said defense attorney Ivan Bates defense, of the warrants for the cellphone.

At another Thursday press conference, the deputy states attorney pinned the blame back on the police for failing to execute the proper search warrants before they expired.

University of Maryland law professor Douglas Colbert said even the existence of such an argument would be unthinkable in any other criminal case in which the police are not the defendant.

When a police defendant is on trial, the system shows a particular sensitivity and awareness of the defendants rights, which frequently is not demonstrated for a typical indictment defendant, said Colbert. Police trials are different.

In a press conference on Thursday, chief deputy states attorney Michael Schatzow acknowledged the limitations of a trial for addressing the larger questions raised in the court.

We cant know what happened to Freddie Gray unless the people who were involved tell us what happened to Freddie Gray, he said. Within the limits of the criminal trial process, that question has been answered as well as that question can be answered within that process and the fact that people have lingering concerns and lingering questions simply reflects the limitations of the process to answer those questions.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/29/freddie-gray-case-gag-order-new-information