Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all charges against the three officers awaiting trial in the Freddie Gray case, effectively closing the books on the high-profile case and leaving the state without a conviction in the 25-year-old's arrest and death, which sparked protests and riots in the city last year.
The move came in a hearing that was supposed to mark the beginning of trial against Officer Garrett Miller, the fifth officer to be tried in the case. Prosecutor Michael Schatzow told Judge Barry G. Williams that the state would dismiss all charges against Miller, as well as Sgt. Alicia White and Officer William Porter, who were set for trial in the coming months.
Prosecutors charged six officers in Gray's arrest and death. Three were recently acquitted on all charges following bench trials. Porter's case in December ended in a hung jury.
A defiant Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby held a press conference after the Wednesday hearing near the site of Gray's arrest, saying the decision to end the prosecution was "agonizing." She said it was clear that the government could not win a conviction and that "the judge has made it clear he does not agree with the state's case."
She did not back down from her decision to charge the officers, based on an independent investigation conducted by her office, not the city police.
"We do not believe Freddie Gray killed himself," Mosby said, as some in the crowd cheered.
The top prosecutor, who has previously been under a gag order, also was critical of the police. She made accusations of abnormalities in the investigation of Gray's death, saying there were individual officers who were witnesses and also were part of the investigation. She said lead detectives were "uncooperative" and that search warrants were not executed. Mosby also said officers created videos to "disprove the state's case."
Police arrested Gray the morning of April 12, 2015, after he fled from officers on bike patrol. Officers shackled Gray's wrists and legs and loaded him into a police transport van without seat-belting him. At some point during the ride to jail, Gray fell and suffered a severe neck injury. He died in the hospital a week later.
Prosecutors had thrown out a variety of theories over four trials in an attempt to win a conviction: Officers gave Gray a "rough ride." Officers callously ignored Gray's cries for medical help. Officers didn't put Gray in a seat belt to punish him for making a scene during his arrest.
But in reading his verdict over three bench trials, Williams said over and over again that prosecutors did not present enough evidence to show that officers harbored any ill intent.
"It seems Ms. Mosby and her prosecutors have gotten the message that they're not going to win any more cases," said Marshall Henslee, a Baltimore defense attorney. "They could have gone forward on principle, but they probably figured let's cut our losses here."
Henslee said Officer Edward Nero's decision to select a bench trial over a jury trial played a big role in the cases being dropped. After other defendants saw Nero's acquittal, they were emboldened to do the same. In a jury trial, defense attorneys have to convince only one person their client is not guilty and the case ends in a hung jury. But a judge trial is riskier, because there is only one person to convince and there is a guaranteed verdict.
"It was a gutsy decision and that is why we are where we are today," Henslee said.
Many defense attorneys raised questions over how quickly Mosby brought charges against the officers. Her office said it had conducted an investigation and announced prosecution of the officers in a dramatic press conference on the steps of the city's War Memorial as police were still finishing their review.
"She said we don't trust the police to do an investigation of their own members so we went out and did our own investigation," Henslee said. "It made everyone wonder if her motivations were more political than legal."
Gray's death became a flashpoint in national debate over the deaths of black men in police custody.
In legal filings and in court hearings, prosecutors have said that as the city's top law enforcement officer, it was Mosby's job to protect Baltimore from the unrest and rioting that ignited the days after Gray's death. After she announced the charges against the six officers, and told the city that she had "heard your cries for, 'no justice no peace,'" demonstrations and looting quieted.
Defense attorneys representing all the police officers were huddled together in a meeting Wednesday morning in Baltimore discussing the decision by prosecutors. Michael Davey, who represents Lt. Brian Rice, acquitted July 18 of manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct, said the attorney s would not comment until a statement planned for the afternoon at the Baltimore police union hall.
Davey said the attorneys, who along with their clients are now free for the first time to discuss the cases, were still trying to sort out the impact and details Wednesday morning.