Home News Tensions rise between police, prosecutors in Freddie Gray case

Tensions rise between police, prosecutors in Freddie Gray case

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Tension mounts between Baltimore police, prosecutors in Freddie Gray case

By Justin George The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — As Batts’ deadline neared for providing results of the investigation to Baltimore State’s Attorney Mosby, signs of tension between police and prosecutors surfaced.

During the task force’s investigation, prosecutors were briefed every few days but shared little, which police commanders felt was unusual. There were none of the specific questions that prosecutors typically posed to homicide detectives during investigations.

Police commanders also grew wary because Mosby said she was running a parallel investigation involving the city sheriff’s office, which handles courthouse security. That varied from the standard procedure, in which police investigate use-of-force cases and present findings to prosecutors, who then may pursue certain issues further, sometimes through a grand jury and subpoenas.

Some police officials sensed that prosecutors were fishing around, to make sure Mosby’s investigation was as thorough as the police probe.

They worried that Mosby would charge the officers before receiving results of the police investigation. With such a move, some police commanders believed, she could claim that her office took action at a time when the city needed answers, while the Baltimore Police Department — and by extension, the mayor — did not.

Perception and politics. Another thing commanders worried about.

Batts wanted to wrap up the police investigation quickly, but thoroughly, to help calm tensions in the city. He planned to hold a news conference on Friday, May 1, to let the public know what the task force had found. Giant posterboards displaying the van’s route had been ordered.

But prosecutors told him to stop releasing information about the investigation, Batts said. There would be no news conference.

On Wednesday evening, Batts called Brandford to ask about the status of the investigation. Brandford said the task force still had much to do but members were confident of one thing: Freddie Gray was injured in the van and not beaten.

Batts told Brandford to turn the case over to Mosby Thursday morning — a day before the deadline.

“Most of it was completed and done already,” Batts said later. “I felt tensions within the city. … I didn’t want [another] riot.”

Because most task force members had gone home, Brandford began organizing the case folder and making copies. It was his 54th birthday, and earlier in the day a detective had snuck in balloons and an orange-and-blue birthday cake with the task force’s lunch.

Brandford didn’t finish copying the files until 3:30 a.m. He took the case file home, told his wife what he was about to do and snapped some photos of the file as a keepsake.

The next morning, Brandford placed the thick file in a blue tote bag and returned to police headquarters. At 8:45 a.m., he headed for the prosecutor’s office, using a rear exit to avoid attention. It was less than a half-mile walk, but he felt the weight of history in his hands. He waited for walk signs before he crossed streets, fearful a car might hit him, scattering hundreds of important documents over the street, he said later, recalling that morning’s events.

He got to the state’s attorney’s office at 120 E. Baltimore St. at 9 a.m., just as many staffers were arriving for work. On the ninth floor, he sat waiting for Deputy State’s Attorney Jan Bledsoe. He was taken to the 10th floor, and asked to wait again.

About 25 minutes passed, and Brandford wondered if the state’s attorney’s office didn’t want to accept the case file — and the responsibility that came with it. Just then, Chief Deputy Michael Schatzow walked into the office and noticed the blue tote at Brandford’s feet.

“Good morning,” Brandford said, adding that he had come to drop off some “materials.”

He recalled that Schatzow said, “Materials, huh?”

Back at police headquarters, Green led the morning task force meeting. None of the officers realized the discreet exchange between Brandford and prosecutors was taking place. When word trickled in that results of the investigation had been turned over to prosecutors, task force members wondered if their job was done. Scores of unanswered questions remained on a checklist of 145 investigative tasks.

No one knew what it all meant.

Officers Charged The next morning, Brandford was back at the head of the conference room’s table. He told the task force he would quickly go over the day’s assignments, because he had a tight schedule of meetings.

The ring tone of the U.S. Marine Corps Hymn began playing on his cellphone, and Brandford took it out to the hall. Mosby had scheduled a morning news conference, someone told him. He raced to the sixth-floor Homicide Unit and found a television near his office.

Davis took over in the conference room, telling the task force, “We’re still not done with the investigation. We have a lot of pieces to put together.”

Task force members soon learned what Brandford knew. Some rushed into Green’s office and turned on the television; others walked down the hall to a television in a sergeant’s office. Some flipped open their laptops and looked for an online feed of the news conference.

Davis headed to Batts’ office, where he was joined by Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere and Lt. Col. Melissa Hyatt. They watched intently as Mosby walked to a lectern set up on the steps of the War Memorial, across the street from police headquarters.

“The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide that we received today, has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges,” Mosby said. The police task force’s report was notably absent from her comments.

Mosby rattled off charges against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. Goodson, the van driver, faced the most serious charge: second-degree murder.

Shannon Sullivan, of the Office of Internal Oversight, dropped the file she had been carrying and picked it back up. She moved closer to the television, saying, “How are they going to prove it?”

“Tough road to prove it,” Detective Cheryl Quomany said. “It’s up to them. Six of them. Wow.”

Batts didn’t know the charges were coming until just before the announcement. Those in his office, including Davis and Palmere, were stunned by the suddenness of Mosby’s action. Feelings of defeat and resignation fell over some task force members who had worked 12- and 15-hour days for two weeks straight, and had hoped their work would be valued by prosecutors.

A thousand-mile stare crossed the face of Detective Boyd. He had felt guilty working at headquarters as colleagues were out on the front lines handling protests and disturbances. He had told himself that he was also serving the city, just in a different way.

But when Mosby announced the charges, only a day after police turned over their investigation, Boyd said, “It was almost like being at a wake.”

Internal Tensions Brandford couldn’t help wondering whether the task force had missed something the state’s attorney’s office had found. He didn’t understand how Mosby could file such severe charges against the six officers, and he refused to release task force members from their assignments.

He ordered them back to work on Saturday.

They reviewed the case over and over, waiting for instructions from Mosby’s office. But Brandford said, “That call never came,” and much of the task force’s work was put on hold, including the testing of the uniform from Goodson’s locker. Police officials did not compel Goodson to provide a statement about the events of April 12.

He scaled back the task force and gathered the remaining members — including Teel, who was the primary investigator on the case, and homicide detectives Alston, Veney and Taylor — in his office.

As Brandford pulled out a copy of the case file for review and trial preparation, Teel suddenly spoke up, telling the major and detectives that she was going on leave.

By Tuesday, May 5, only three detectives remained on the task force. Brandford made Taylor the primary because of her experience and toughness during trials. Like him, she had served in the Marines.

Other changes came, too.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts Wednesday, saying his presence had become a distraction in a city that needs to focus on ending a dramatic spike in homicides.

“Too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier…

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts Wednesday, saying his presence had become a distraction in a city that needs to focus on ending a dramatic spike in homicides.

“Too many continue to die on our streets, including three just last night and one lost earlier…

Batts was fired in July, as homicides spiked and the rank and file questioned his leadership during the riots. Davis became interim police commissioner and promoted Brandford two ranks, to colonel.

In September, the city agreed to pay the Gray family a $ 6.4 million settlement, accepting all civil liability without acknowledging any wrongdoing by police. Days later, the mayor announced that she would not seek re-election.

As the trials of the six officers neared, many task force members were skeptical of the prosecutors’ independent probe. They questioned whether prosecutors could have done as much work as the 30-member task force and noted that Mosby’s office had requested only one city surveillance video from the police Watch Center, out of dozens the task force reviewed, before filing charges against the officers.

Mosby’s office declined to discuss the police investigation in detail, but spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie said prosecutors were aware or briefed on all police discoveries during the task force investigation “prior to the charges being filed” and afterward. She added that prosecutors did not give The Sun access to their meetings with police, “to prevent any disclosure of evidence in the pending case, which violates our prosecutorial ethics.”

Meanwhile, a rift widened between Detective Taylor and Bledsoe, the prosecutor overseeing the case. In August, they argued about the knife Gray was carrying, and whether it was legal under city or state law. Since then, they have had little communication, even as prosecutors continued to seek more evidence.

Now Taylor has no idea what to expect when the first trial, for Officer William Porter, begins. For all of the task force’s discoveries, interviews and re-enactments, she and other members feel just as far from clarity as they did back in April.

“Usually us and prosecutors are on the same page,” Taylor said recently. “We know what motions they’re going to make. We know what witnesses they’re going to call and what order.

“I don’t know anything about this case.”

Copyright 2015 The Baltimore Sun
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