Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s promises of justice nearly 15 months ago calmed a violent, broken city, bringing her instant national celebrity — even a Vogue magazine spread with photos by Annie Leibovitz — and talk of a sky’s-the-limit political future.
She and her husband, City Council member Nick Mosby (D), reigned as Baltimore’s rising stars.
At the same time, the first-term prosecutor’s many detractors, especially in the law enforcement community, labeled her the rankest kind of opportunist. They accused her of recklessly slapping together criminal cases with unseemly haste in an ambition-fueled rush to judgment.
On Wednesday, Mosby’s office announced that it was dropping all criminal charges against the officers after three acquittals and one hung jury in the arrest and death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray last year. Predictably, both sides remained split over whether Mosby, 36, can recover politically.
“I don’t think so,” said Warren Brown, a lawyer and former assistant state’s attorney who worked in the office before Mosby’s arrival. “I don’t think she can regain the trust of the white community, and the black community has been fractured. Their regard for her is fractured.”
Brown contended that the gathering backlash against Mosby also damaged her husband’s short-lived mayoral candidacy. Nick Mosby launched his bid last October, six months after Gray’s death, and dropped out two weeks before the April 26 primary. His office did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Prospective opponents are already lining up to consider challenging Marilyn Mosby in 2018, Brown said, including defense lawyer Ivan Bates, who represented Sgt. Alicia White, one of the six charged officers.
In a telephone interview, Bates deflected questions about running, but said: “I do feel there needs to be a change. The city needs to heal, and unfortunately Ms. Mosby has shown herself to be extremely divisive.”
Others in the legal community said Mosby’s relationship with the city’s police department was irreparably damaged — a potentially serious problem going forward as she tries to prosecute crimes in a city where homicides are sharply on the rise.
Her angry, defiant appearance before reporters Wednesday morning, in which she accused detectives of launching “a counter-investigation” to undermine the state’s case, seems likely to widen the breach.
“I don’t know that she has made enemies in the city, but I think she missed an opportunity this morning to make peace with police,” said Roya Hanna, a former Baltimore assistant state’s attorney who now runs her own criminal defense practice. “Instead of putting out a hand and making peace, she attacked the city.”
Rebuilding those relationships won’t be easy, said Donald Norris, director of the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
“Even in a perfect world — which we don’t live in, of course — even if she were able to establish positive connections with the top police command structure, the rank and file won’t buy it,” he said.
Mosby held her news conference in the run-down West Baltimore neighborhood where Gray was arrested. As she spoke, she was cheered on by residents and onlookers who chanted, “We’re with you.”
“I was elected the prosecutor. I signed up for this, and I can take it,” she declared, describing months of harassment and threats over the decision to forgo a grand jury indictment and press charges against the police. “I refuse to allow the grandstanding of some and hyperbole of others to diminish our work for justice.”
Community activists, including Baltimore NAACP President Tessa Hill-Aston, said the prosecutor won widespread respect for charging the officers in the first place. Hill-Aston predicted that Mosby will continue to have strong support in poor communities and the city’s heavily African American areas, especially because the Gray case encouraged efforts to improve police training and accountability in Baltimore and statewide.
“I think people know that she did the best she could,” Hill-Aston said. “They know there’s a lot of obstacles in prosecuting a case like this and don’t fault her for deciding to drop the charges.”
Former Baltimore mayor Kurt L. Schmoke — who first met Mosby when she and her future husband were undergraduates at Tuskegee University in Alabama, and served on her transition committee when she won office in 2014 — said he was confident that fallout from the Gray case will not jeopardize her political career.
Schmoke likened her situation to the uproar he faced in 1988, his first year as the city’s first African-American mayor, after he told a congressional committee that the country might be better off legalizing illicit drugs.
“Some people thought I ought to be impeached,” said Schmoke, now president of the University of Baltimore.
But Schmoke, who went on to win two more terms in office, said he discovered that patient, steady explanations of his position quelled the controversy.
“The majority of citizens still disagreed with me, but they supported the fact that I didn’t waffle and I didn’t change my opinion,” Schmoke said. “I think that’s what opponents of Marilyn are going to face two years from now.”