UNABLE TO secure a single conviction in the previous trials of Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, prosecutors on Wednesday dropped all charges against the remaining three officers. Prosecutors were right to accept the inevitable; the judge presiding over the cases had made clear he found the evidence presented by the state to be insufficient to secure a criminal conviction. That, though, does not mean that police were not culpable. Simply put, a man died who should not have. That should cause some soul-searching about whether other remedies are needed to make police accountable so that in the future such needless deaths can be prevented.
“We do not believe Freddie Gray killed himself,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said at a news conference discussing what she called the “agonizing” decision not to proceed with charges against three officers who were awaiting trial in the April 2015 death of Gray. The 25-year-old black man died from a severe neck injury he suffered after police placed him, his wrists and legs shackled, in a van without being secured with a seat belt. His death, ruled a homicide, sparked protests and riots in the city.
Ms. Mosby moved quickly in bringing charges against six police officers, a decision that has brought her both praise and criticism, the latter notably from police union officials who have accused her of bringing a politically motivated prosecution. No matter one’s view of Ms. Mosby or the particulars of this case, it is always hard to bring successful prosecutions of police officers. Investigations can be hampered by laws that shield police from timely questioning, and juries and judges are reluctant to convict even in cases when there is ample evidence.
The inadequacy of the criminal-justice system to deal with these issues has prompted some to call for other solutions. Jon O. Newman, a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, argued in a recent Post op-ed for reforms of federal laws that make it difficult to sue police officers for misconduct. State Sen. Catherine E. Pugh, the Democratic nominee for Baltimore mayor, highlighted efforts in Maryland to change the makeup of police trial boards so that the community has a voice in deciding what discipline police officers face. The officers in the Gray case still face administrative review hearings.
Some changes have already resulted from the Gray case. Vans have been equipped with cameras and officers with body cameras. There is more rigor in making sure police are aware of protocols. The Justice Department is conducting a policy and practices review of Baltimore police. We hope that will lead to more reforms.