Friday, May 8, 2015

Baltimore Mayor Throws Police Department Under The Bus

Baltimore Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, has called on the Justice Department Civil Rights Division to investigate the Baltimore PD for patterns and practices of excessive force, discriminatory harassment, false arrests, and unlawful stops, searches or arrests. The request comes in the aftermath of the recent death of Freddie Gray, a suspect who was arrested and who died while in a police van on the way to the jail.

The case has received nationwide attention and not all of it is good. Many legal experts around the country have questioned the filing of second degree murder charges against one of six officers who were charged, saying none of the evidence made public amounts to a murder charge since for murder the prosecutor has to prove intent. The officer charged with murder is African-American, as are two of his five co-defendants.

The Baltimore PD consists of about 3,000 officers, half of whom are African-American and another 8% or so who are non-white. The mayor, city council president and five others of the 9 member city council, police chief, and top prosecutor are African American. Some critics say African-Americans are under-represented on the police department since African-Americans make up around 65% of the population. But compared to some other police departments in the country (Ferguson, MO comes to mind), having a majority of people of color on the force, with half of them African-American, is huge. And while having an exact racial balance between police and citizens would be optimal, in very few cases would it be an attainable goal.

I found Mayor Rawlings-Blake's choice of words, when she announced she was seeking the federal investigation, very intersting.

"We all know that Baltimore continues to have a fractured relationship between the police and the community," Rawlings-Blake said. "I'm willing to do what it takes to reform my department."

Is she implying that the citizens of Baltimore share no responsibility in the fractured relationship with the police? Is she, like NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, assuming the Baltimore PD is made up of racists and bigots who prey on black people, even including the minority police officers? Or is she only accusing the white officers of these practices - even though there are three African-American officers involved in the Gray case?

I find the motive(s) Mayor Rawlings-Blake to be questionable at best. She spoke with the President personally during the rioting two weeks ago and with the new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, more recently. She also made that infamous statement to Al Sharpton's National Action Network that “We will get justice for Freddie Gray. Believe you me, we will get justice. If, with the nation watching, three black women at three different levels (referring to herself, Marilyn Mosby and newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch) can’t get justice and healing for this community, you tell me where we’re going to get it in our country.”

Isn't justice supposed to be fair and impartial and the accused presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? It seems the mayor has already made her decision that the police officers are guilty and that Freddie Gray should get justice instead of allowing the process to uncover the truth. And now she has called in the feds to investigate "her" police department for patterns and practices of abuse.

I remember when Michael Brown was killed by Officer Wilson and Eric Holder opened a civil rights investigation immediately - ultimately ending with no charges against Wilson and several allegations of wrongdoing by the department. In this case Holder waited to open an investigation - perhaps because he jumped the gun on the Wilson investigation or perhaps because he was waiting for Loretta Lynch to replace him so it could be her investigation. Doesn't matter. She seems to be Eric Holder in a dress.

We already know that the Justice Department will find things that they will say need to be changed and/or monitored in the future. It will be interesting to see what they accuse the Baltimore PD with. I just read an article about Loretta Lynch meeting with the family of Freddie Gray and promising them that she would "improve the Baltimore Police Department." That indicates that she also has convicted the six officers without trial.

It's going to be very interesting to see how this case proceeds. The police department completed its own investigation and some of the findings were contradictory to those of the prosecutor's office. According to the police, the knife in Gray's possession, while not illegal by state code is, in fact, illegal by Baltimore city code. That would mean the arresting officers had every right to place him in custody. They echo the words of legal experts who say there is insufficient evidence to support the second degree murder charge as there must be a proven intent to kill. The most they should charge would be manslaughter, which is involuntarily causing death. But they have yet to reveal how Gray was injured. Perhaps they are keeping that under wraps or perhaps, as I suspect, they really have no idea. It's hard to prove someone guilty of manslaughter when you can't say how he/she injured the victim.

Lastly, the police investigation revealed that the lead investigator for the prosecutor's office is a former high ranking member of the Baltimore PD who was removed from his position for failing to follow up on a robbery investigation that was not properly reported by two of his subordinate officers. In addition, in 2009, the Baltimore SWAT Team was called to his house for an incident in which he was allegedly drunk and in possession of a firearm. According to a report the police used a taser on him but it doesn't say how the incident ended. There were no arrests.

Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby was contacted by the media for comment on the police investigation and the differences between the two.

"While the evidence we have obtained through our independent investigation does substantiate the elements of the charges filed, I refuse to litigate this case through the media," Mosby said in a public statement. "The evidence we have collected cannot ethically be disclosed, relayed or released to the public before trial. As I've previously indicated, I strongly condemn anyone in law enforcement with access to trial evidence, who has or continues to leak information prior to the resolution of this case. These unethical disclosures are only damaging our ability to conduct a fair and impartial process for all parties involved."

Interesting. Last week when she was announcing the charges she was all about getting in front of the cameras. Now, when her case seems not so cut and dried and may, in fact, be falling apart, she wants nothing to do with the cameras. I hope this prosecutor and the mayor know what they're doing. If Mosby loses this case Baltimore will be on fire - literally.

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