Shortly after being elected chief prosecutor, Baltimore’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby said prosecutors in the hardscrabble town had the “toughest job in America.”
Mosby, who took over her first elected post in January, responded forcefully Friday to the toughest case of her nascent career. She announced charges ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder, to manslaughter, to second-degree assault, against six officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. Arrest warrants were issued for the officers, who were to be arraigned Friday.
The unexpected announcement was greeted with cheers from spectators at Mosby’s outdoor news conference. On the streets, motorists honked their horns in approval. Twitter was abuzz with word of Mosby’s decision.
Mosby urged the public to remain calm.
“To the people of Baltimore and demonstrators across America, I heard your call for ‘No Justice, No peace,'” she said. “Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man.”
Gray, 25, died in police custody from a fatal spinal cord injury, one week after he was arrested. Six officers involved in his arrest were suspended with pay pending an investigation.
Mosby said an investigation determined officers bound Gray’s wrists and ankles, leaving him stomach-down on the floor of a police van. As the van cruised around West Baltimore, officers on at least five occasions checked on Gray and failed to secure him, she said.
By the time the van reached a police station to drop off another prisoner, Mosby said, Gray was not breathing and in cardiac arrest. He suffered a “severe and critical neck injury” as a result of being handcuffed, shackled and unrestrained in the van, she said.
Officers did not have probable cause to arrest him. A knife found in his pants pocket was not an illegal switchblade, she said.
“No one is above the law,” the prosecutor said.
Mosby, 35, who comes from a long line of police officers, including her grandfather, four uncles and her mother, assumes a key role in the latest case to draw national attention to the issue of relations between police officers and the communities they are sworn to serve.
On Friday, Mosby said the charges against the six officers did not represent an indictment of the entire police force.
In a letter to Mosby, the city police union’s president said that “none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of [Freddie] Gray.”
“To the contrary, at all times, each of the officers diligently balanced their obligations to protect Mr. Gray and discharge their duties to protect the public,” Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan wrote. In the letter, which was released just before Mosby’s announcement, Ryan asked that an independent prosecutor be appointed to the case.
In a campaign video for her 2014 campaign for state’s attorney, she said her grandfather “was one of the first African-American police officers in Massachusetts and one of the things he instilled on us is the importance of public service.”
Freddie Gray’s mysterious death has turned the largely black city near the nation’s capital into a tinderbox where mostly peaceful demonstrations on Monday erupted in pockets of looting and rioting in the hours after Gray’s funeral.
A 10 p.m. citywide curfew was put into effect two days ago, and National Guard troops have joined Baltimore police in an attempt to maintain order.
On Thursday, as police handed their investigative files over to the state attorney’s officer a day earlier than planned, supporters of the former insurance company lawyer expressed confidence in Mosby’s ability to handle the volatile case.
“We’re enthusiastic about the new prosecutor,” said William “Billy” Murphy Jr., a former Baltimore judge who is now the lead attorney for Gray’s family. “She comes to the office with a belief in the integrity of these kinds of investigations. We have much more confidence in her than we have in the police because there’s never been any level of confidence, nor should there be, in the police investigating themselves.”
Mosby confirmed in a statement Thursday that she had received the police’s investigative report. She said that while police have regularly briefed her office on their findings, her team has been conducting its own independent probe into the April 19 death.
“While we have and will continue to leverage the information received by the department, we are not relying solely on their findings, but rather the facts that we have gathered and verified,” Mosby said. “We ask for the public to remain patient and peaceful and to trust the process of the justice system.”
Mosby is married to Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents areas of West Baltimore where riots erupted earlier this week. The couple have two young daughters.
“She’s my wife,” Nick Mosby told CNN on Thursday. “She’s a strong woman. She was built for this. … I was at church service the other day and they were talking about being at the right place with the right person at the right time. I know her heart has always been convicted to ensure that justice will be served fairly and equally across the board.”
During her campaign, Mosby spoke about the broad-daylight shooting death of her 17-year-old cousin on her front doorstep.
“I learned very early on that the criminal justice system isn’t just the police, the judges and the state’s attorney,” she said. “It’s much more than that. I believe that we are the justice system. We, the members of the community, are the justice system because we are the victims of crimes.”
Mosby said her cousin’s 1994 murder was her first introduction to the criminal justice system.
“Having to go to court and deal with prosecutors,” she said. “Having to go to court and see my neighbor who had the courage and audacity to cooperate with the police … to testify in court and the way the district attorney’s office treated my family is something that inspired me.”
Mosby, who grew up in Boston, is the youngest chief prosecutor of any major city in the United States, according to the state’s attorney’s website.
At the age of 6, Mosby was accepted in a school desegregation program in Massachusetts. She later participated in a study of the civil rights movement.
“After having that awesome experience I knew I wanted to be an attorney,” she said during her campaign.
A. Dwight Pettit, a civil rights attorney and Mosby supporter, said he believes she will “deliver on doing it right, and getting it right. I’m confident in that.”
“She’s very dedicated and part of what she campaigned on was bringing integrity to the office, and so I believe that she will move in a methodical way,” he said. “And I think that she will follow where the evidence leads. I do not think she will follow just public opinion.”
When she was sworn in as chief prosecutor earlier this year, Mosby brought up the lack of trust between the community and police.
“Our time to repair that trust, to come together collectively as a community to start to break down the barriers to progress in our communities is now,” she said.
Mosby added, “As a black woman who understands just how much the criminal justice system disproportionately affects communities of color, I will seek justice on your behalf.”
Mosby is African-American, as are Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts and other leading Baltimore officials. Although about 63 percent of Baltimore’s population is black, they face stunning disparities when it comes to income, employment, poverty, housing, incarceration and overall health.
The people on Mosby’s transition team included former Mayor Kurt Schmoke, former congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume and Murphy, who is now representing Gray’s family.
Schmoke, a former state’s attorney and Baltimore’s first African-American mayor, said Mosby’s background will buy her time with a tense community anxious for justice.
“I actually think that the level of patience will actually increase primarily because the state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, was recently elected,” he said. “She has a level of credibility with the community that will allow for that patience. I can’t say how long, but I do think that people will give her a little bit more time to do it right rather than to do it fast.”
Mosby defeated Gregg Bernstein as state’s attorney in a 2014 election.
“Baltimore prosecutors get to see it all in court — we’ve got the toughest job in America,” she said in a statement after the election.
Mary Koch, another attorney for Gray’s family, said the new chief prosecutor has her work cut out for her.
“The family wants the truth and they want it to be arrived at very carefully and that’s not going to be an easy job for Ms. Mosby,” said Koch, adding: “That’s her job. That’s the job she took on.”