In the midst of a national crisis of police violence, Baltimore’s state’s attorney gambled that prosecuting six officers for the death of Freddie Gray would help heal her city. She lost much more than just the case.
A little before 7 the other night, the prosecutor Marilyn Mosby stopped by my house in Baltimore for dinner. She was coming straight from work in one of her customary gray pantsuits, and because I was already nursing a beer, she took off her jacket with a sigh and poured herself a glass of white wine. Then we stepped onto the back deck to throw a few burgers on the grill. This being a September evening, you might imagine the yard in raking light and breezy autumnal aspect, but it was actually pretty swampy, the oppressive tonnage of summer humidity not yet given way to season’s end, so as soon as the burgers looked about done, we ferried them inside and settled at the island in my kitchen to eat. After a few minutes, Mosby’s husband, Nick, who sits on the City Council, knocked on my front door, let himself in and wandered through the house to join us. He took a seat two chairs down from Marilyn, leaving an empty one between them.
“Hey, Marilyn,” he said quietly.
“Hey, Nick,” she said. “How are you?”
“Fine,” he said.
“How was your meeting?”
“Didn’t you have a Council meeting?”
“Oh,” he said. “That was a long time ago.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Then where are you coming from just now?”
“I was waiting for you at home,” he said.
Now she looked annoyed. “I called you at 6:07,” she said. “You didn’t answer.”
“Which number?” he asked.
“Your cellphone!” she said.
There was a long silence as Marilyn stared at Nick, who stared at the table. “Well,” he said, shaking his head. “I was at home.”
I relate this bit of conversation not because it offers a perfect window on the Mosbys and their marriage, but just the opposite: because it’s important to understand from the outset that what you are about to read is a narrow but intimate view. A couple in the midst of a public ordeal is not excused from life’s usual bothers, and what is striking when you find yourself in proximity to a crisis isn’t always the soaring arc of the fall but the way it touches against, grazes and refracts all the familiar daily torments on the way down.
In case your memory is a little foggy, the Mosbys have emerged as one of the most prominent political couples in Baltimore over the last 18 months of upheaval. Nick represents the City Council district where a 25-year-old resident, Freddie Gray, was arrested in April 2015 and where protests over his death turned to incendiary violence. Marilyn is the state’s attorney who, in the midst of that unrest, took to the steps of the War Memorial downtown, facing City Hall, to announce that she was filing criminal charges against six police officers over Gray’s death.
“I have heard your calls for ‘no justice, no peace!’ ” she boomed before a bank of television cameras in a clip that would echo across the country, would calm the simmering tenor of the city and would, at least temporarily, elevate Mosby to the role of proxy for a nation reeling with outrage and disbelief over the failure of other prosecutors in other cities to indict other police officers for the killings of other black men, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner on Staten Island. In the days after her announcement, Mosby would be thrust into a woozy limelight: called onstage at a Prince benefit concert and photographed by Annie Leibovitz for Vogue.
Yet over the last year and a half, the halo around Mosby has faded as her office failed to convict any of the police officers and instead produced three acquittals, and one hung jury — before deciding in late July to withdraw all remaining charges. She is now being sued for defamation by five of the officers she indicted and has become a go-to grievance for the voluble right, being subject to more or less constant assault on the conservative airwaves, accused of criminal misconduct by Donald Trump and featured on the cover of the police magazine Frontline under the headline “The Wolf That Lurks.” A steady barrage of racist hate mail and death threats still pours into her home and office. Nick Mosby has had an equally dispiriting year, having started and abandoned a campaign for mayor of Baltimore and, in the process, giving up his seat on the Council, where his term comes to an end this year. Critics often accuse the Mosbys of Clintonian ambition. A few weeks ago, Baltimore’s alternative weekly, City Paper, released its annual Best of Baltimore issue, declaring them “Best Failed Political Dynasty” and naming Marilyn “Best Don Quixote.”
AFRICAN AMERICAN HOMICIDE VICTIM, BALTIMORE, MD
The circumstances of the injuries were initially unclear; eyewitness accounts suggested that the officers involved used unnecessary force against Gray during the arrest—a claim denied by all officers involved. Commissioner Anthony W. Batts reported that, contrary to department policy, the officers did not secure him inside the van while driving to the police station; this policy had been put into effect six days prior to Gray’s arrest, following review of other transport-related injuries sustained during police custody in the city, and elsewhere in the country during the preceding years. The medical investigation found that Gray had sustained the injuries while in transport. The medical examiner’s office concluded that Gray’s death could not be ruled an accident, and was instead a homicide, because officers failed to follow safety procedures “through acts of omission.” On May 1, 2015, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, announced her office had filed charges against six police officers after the medical examiner’s report ruled Gray’s death a homicide.
The prosecutors stated that they had probable cause to file criminal charges against the six police officers who were believed to be involved in his death. The officer driving the van was charged with second-degree “depraved-heart” murder for his indifference to the considerable risk that Gray might be killed, and others were charged with crimes ranging from manslaughter to illegal arrest. On May 21, a grand jury indicted the officers on most of the original charges filed by Mosby with the exception of the charges of illegal imprisonment and false arrest, and added charges of reckless endangerment to all the officers involved.
Gray’s hospitalization and subsequent death resulted in an ongoing series of protests. On April 25, 2015, a major protest in downtown Baltimore turned violent, resulting in 34 arrests and injuries to 15 police officers. After Gray’s funeral on April 27, civil disorder intensified with looting and burning of local businesses and a CVS drug store, culminating with a state of emergency declaration by Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland National Guard deployment to Baltimore, and the establishment of a curfew. On May 3, the National Guard started withdrawing from Baltimore, and the night curfew on the city was lifted.
In September 2015, it was decided that there would be separate trials for the accused. The trial against Officer William Porter ended in mistrial. Officers Nero, Goodson, and Rice were found not guilty at trial. The remaining charges against the officers were dropped on July 27, 2016.
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