Maryland Brutality Investigation Reform Fell Through One Month Before Freddie Gray’s Death

News & Politics

Following Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s Friday announcement that all six Baltimore police officers implicated in the April death of Freddie Gray, 25, would receive charges ranging from negligence to murder, the Baltimore City Fraternal Order of Police released a statement requesting that Mosby recuse herself from the investigation to allow for independent prosecution.

Gene Ryan, the president of the police officer's union, insisted that, “As tragic as this situation is, none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr. Gray.” He argued that Mosby’s husband (Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby) and connection to Gray via his family attorney’s contributions to her campaign would affect the prosecution. Mosby denies the clouding of her judgement and has reaffirmed her first commitment as an elected official to uphold the law everywhere in Baltimore. 

The request for an independent investigation by certain members of the law enforcement community has struck many as ironic, given the empirical dearth of independent investigation teams dealing with police brutality cases. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 2015 has seen no fewer than nine state congressional bills proposed to amend codes of criminal procedure that handle complaints of wrongful deaths of citizens at the hands of law enforcement officials. Currently, only Connecticut and Wisconsin have amended their laws regarding the investigation and prosecution of law enforcement officials accused of wrongful death.

Connecticut requires its Division of Criminal Justice to investigate any use of deadly force by police officers, while Wisconsin requires those cases to be investigated by two individuals not employed by the same agency that employs the accused. According to Wisconsin law, if the district attorney finds no cause for prosecution following the investigation, the report must be released to the public.

On Jan. 26, 2015, Maryland Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr. introduced House Bill 112, intended to amend the criminal procedure article of the Annotated Code of Maryland (Sec. 14-107) to authorize the state prosecutor to investigate wrongful death cases involving law enforcement officials. The Maryland Senate cross-filed a bill, Senate Bill 653, but the House Judiciary Committee offered an unfavorable review of its bill on March 19 (with a vote of 15-3, with two excused members) and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee offered a unanimous unfavorable review on March 5. Delegate Conaway was a member of the House Judiciary Committee, and one of the three who voted in favor of HB 112. SB 653 sponsor Senator C. Anthony Muse ultimately withdrew his bill. 

Despite both the House and Senate committees containing several fairly progressive elected officials, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph Vallario Jr. has historically spoken out against criminal justice reform bills. In 2013, in his position as chair, Vallario refused to allow the committee to move a cannabis decriminalization bill to the floor for a vote, declaring it would send a “bad message to the kids.” His committee decides which proposed bills reach a floor vote, and his position as its chair is hugely influential; a criminal defense attorney as well, he has often blocked bills easing the sentencing process for negligent drivers, domestic abusers, and those violating gun possession statutes. Bills will usually die unanimously or near-unanimously in committee if legislators cannot acquire the support required to push them through if they were to make it to a floor vote, and police unions are hugely influential in the Maryland Legislature.

Despite Mosby’s explanation of the illegality of Freddie Gray’s arrest, and the subsequent execution of arrest warrants for five of the six officers charged with involvement in Gray’s death, frustration still surrounds the police officers’ bill of rights in the state of Maryland, which allows officers to wait up to 10 days before speaking with investigators. According to the law, while officers have 10 days to see investigators, alleged abuse victims have only 90 days from the date of the event to file a viable complaint at all.

Although delegate Jill Carter presented a bill earlier this year that would have eliminated the 10-day rule, Maryland police unions presented such strong opposition to this bill that it met the same fate as Conaway’s and Muse’s bills, dying in committee prior to Gray’s death. Residents of Baltimore who have filed complaints against law enforcement officials following alleged brutality events have actively denounced the 10-day rule in the last week of protests.

One lifelong resident of West Baltimore, a young woman who wishes to retain anonymity, relayed her story from 10 years ago. “Here’s what [the police] do: They arrest you, put you in the van, tell the driver to take you to some undisclosed location. Then they take you out, and they beat the shit out of you. Then they take you to booking, who’re like, 'What happened?' and the police say they don’t know. Then booking just takes care of it,” she said, displaying scars she says she still bears from the alleged abuse. 

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