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Why prosecutors dropped charges against Freddie Gray cops

July 27, 2016 at 6:25 PM EDT
Prosecutors dropped the charges against the three remaining officers awaiting trial in the death of Freddie Gray and former Baltimore prosecutor Debbie Hines says that, with three others already acquitted, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby likely expected the same result. The cops still may face suspension, firing or other actions in administrative proceedings, Hines tells Hari Sreenivasan.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: In a surprise move today, prosecutors in Baltimore dropped all remaining charges against three police officers in the Freddie Gray case.

Gray died of spinal cord injuries last year, after being arrested and transported unsecured in a police van. His death sparked widespread protests, looting and arson across Baltimore. Prosecutors charged six officers connected to the arrest, all of whom pleaded not guilty. The first trial resulted in a hung jury and mistrial. Three others ended in separate acquittals.

Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby called today’s decision agonizing.

MARILYN MOSBY, Baltimore State’s Attorney: We stand by the medical examiner’s determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide.

However, after much thought and prayer, it has become clear to me that without being able to work with an independent investigatory agency from the very start, without having a say in the election of whether our cases proceed in front of a judge or a jury, without communal oversight of policing in this country, without real substantive reforms to the current criminal justice, we could try this case 100 times, and cases just like it, and we would still end up with the same result.

HARI SREENIVASAN: After she spoke, the head of the police union in Baltimore called Ms. Mosby’s comments — quote — “outrageous.”

Lawyers for the police officers had argued that their client’s actions during the Gray arrest were justified.

For more on all this, we are again joined by Debbie Hines. She is a former Baltimore prosecutor who today practices law in Washington, D.C.

First, were you surprised by the decision this morning?

DEBBIE HINES, Former Baltimore Prosecutor: Oh, I think everybody was surprised by the decision this morning, myself included, because, as it looked, Officer Miller’s case was going to start to trial this week, and then, of course, Officer Porter would have been tried later, and Sergeant Alicia White.

So, I don’t think anybody saw it coming, but I think it’s a good move on the part of the state’s attorney, if she evaluated it and came to the determination that there is no new, new evidence she can put forth in any of the cases. And like she said, if she tried it 100 more before Judge Barry Williams, she would get the same result. So it was a good decision.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, is this a way for her to cut her losses?

DEBBIE HINES: I don’t want to word it that way.

I think that the way I would word it is — because we don’t look at it that way. I mean, in terms of prosecution, it’s not a game. It’s not a baseball game or a football game, in deciding what you are going to do to cut your losses.

It’s real-life criminal prosecution. So, I think that what she decided is not cutting her losses, but hopefully having her team and other members evaluate, and just determining that there wasn’t any way that they were going to get a conviction based on the evidence that they have from the police officers.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is there anything else that can happen to the officers now? Is there any sort of administrative discipline?

DEBBIE HINES: Oh, that’s a good question, because, yes, the officers are going to be reviewed administratively.

And that’s a whole different process and a much more informal process, but not as high of a standard process as proving criminal guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, already, the officers, although they — the charges are being dropped in all of the cases, they still can face suspension or firing or any other type of sanction that the Baltimore City Police Department would determine.

And, interesting enough, it will not be the Baltimore City Police Department that is going to make the decision. Because of the high-profile-ness of the case, it has actually been assigned to Howard County in Maryland, and I believe Montgomery County.

One of those or both of those jurisdictions together are going to be looking from the start all of the evidence that may be against the officers to see if there was any misconduct.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But is there enough then? As you say, there are separate standards. So there is a possibility then that they could face administrative discipline, but it just — there wasn’t enough evidence for a criminal conviction?

DEBBIE HINES: Exactly.

And, you know, there have been officers. I think there have been approximately 75 officers in recent years that had been fired for misconduct in office. And, of course, we know that there weren’t criminal charges that were brought in most of those cases, because we’re seeing how it shakes out with these officers.

So, it’s a different standard. The criminal standard is the highest of high standards, beyond a reasonable doubt. And in an administrative hearing or administrative situation, it’s just whether they violated any of the orders that the police — the police department had.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But what about the process of transporting people from a crime scene to jail? Is that changing? Has that changed?

It seems that Baltimore has had a history of settling lawsuits for this very practice.

DEBBIE HINES: Exactly.

It’s been difficult to prove in a criminal court of law what is a rough ride, but there has been change already as a result of the Freddie Gray case. And that is good news.

So, the police commissioner in Baltimore has determined that there are going to be videos put in all of the police vans, so hopefully they will be operating and we can exactly see what actually happens inside the van.

There was a general order that has already been presented by the Baltimore city police chief to all of his entire force that, from this point forward, the detainees, prisoners, they must be seat-belted, they cannot be lying face down on the floor of the van handcuffed and shackled.

And then, lastly, one of the things that is going to be a definite change is that, if a prisoner asks for a medic, the officers must at least get a medic, a paralegal, or have the person sent to a hospital.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, any impact on Ms. Mosby’s career?

DEBBIE HINES: She’s a political public servant. She’s elected.

She just had started, as a matter of fact, in January of 2015, before these cases. And so it’s too early to say what will happen with her career. I mean, she definitely has a very promising career.

And I would hope that the citizens of Baltimore wouldn’t judge her by the actions of what happened in these cases, because just bringing the cases, Hari, is going to bring about some change in Baltimore City policing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Debbie Hines, thanks so much for joining us today.

DEBBIE HINES: Thank you, Hari.

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