Can Marilyn Mosby still make good on her progressive promises?
Kelly Davis remembers it clearly. It was early May 2015, and she was standing in the waiting room of her doctors’ office. On the radio, the voice of Baltimore’s new State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, rung out. Mosby announced that Freddie Gray’s death had been ruled a homicide, and her office would bring criminal charges against the six police officers involved in the arrest and “rough ride” that led to his death.
“No one is above the law,” Mosby declared from the steps of the city’s War Memorial Building.
A wave of relief swept through the waiting room. “We were like, ‘we knew it would be her, we knew she would make a difference,’” Davis told In Justice Today.
But over the course of the next two years, Davis and others in Baltimore felt a growing sense of disappointment. The promise of change that came when Mosby beat incumbent State’s Attorney candidate Gregg Bernstein, some felt, went undelivered. That disappointment began with the mistrials, acquittals, and dropped charges against the officers in Gray’s case, but didn’t end there. Two of the officers she indicted filed a lawsuit against Mosby, accusing her of defamation.
Mosby ran on a campaign that promised change, vowing to prioritize repairing the “fractured relationship between law enforcement and communities.” Mosby also promised to drive down recidivism by giving second chances for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders. But as with the prosecutions of those involved in Gray’s death, Mosby has not successfully followed through.
And for Davis, justice, or the lack of it, is personal. Two years ago, Baltimore police officers chased her husband, Keith Davis, Jr., from the scene of a robbery into a garage and fired 44 bullets at him, hitting him three times. He survived, but is now in prison, fighting a homicide charge. Bullet fragments remained lodged in his neck and face for more than two years, until they were finally removed in July.
Davis maintains that he had nothing to do with the robbery of a driver on the day he was shot by police, and says that he ran from the officers along with many other people at the scene of the crime. Accounts of what happened in the garage where he attempted to hide that day vary; the police allege Davis pointed a gun at them, while Davis says there was no gun in his hand, and that a gun only happened to be in the garage. Police said he fit the description of the man who robbed the driver, but in fact, the driver had described a man with braids, and Davis had a shaved head.
When Davis left the hospital, 15 criminal charges were filed against him. In 2016, 14 of those charges were dropped, leaving one for the unlawful possession of the gun found in the garage. The driver who was robbed ultimately testified that Davis was not the man who attempted to rob him. The police later alleged that the gun recovered from the garage had been used in a murder that took place earlier that morning, and Davis now faces charges related to the homicide in addition to the gun possession offense. Davis testified that he believed the police planted the gun on him after realizing they’d shot an innocent man.
Kelly Davis believed that when her husband’s case hit Mosby’s desk, she would recognize the injustice and errors made by the police, clear his charges, and bring justice to her family. But no charges were dropped, and in November 2016, Mosby’s office declined to charge the four officers who fired their guns at Mr. Davis, before they had given their statements about what happened. When they finally shared their accounts two months later, their stories differed.
Last April, Mosby clashed with more community members when she declined to reopen an investigation into the death of Tryone West, who died during an altercation with police officers in the course of a traffic stop. West’s sister, Tawanda Jones, leads protests to challenge and draw attention to the office’s decision every Wednesday.
Disturbed by the inaction of Mosby’s office and continued pursuit of her husband’s case, Davis has taken it upon herself to keep a close eye on Mosby’s office, and in particular, kept track of the mass exodus of staff members who’ve left since she became states attorney. Davis keeps a document tracking every departure; as of August 2017, the list includes the names of 66 staff members. (That accounts for a turnover of roughly one-third of the office’s staff.)
“You now have all inexperienced prosecutors who don’t know their cases, don’t know where they’re going,” says Davis. “They’re not getting the proper training, and the result of that is evident in our crime rates and the way these cases happen.”
Though Mosby indisputably had a rough start to her tenure that disappointed many, there may be reason to hope she can turn things around. In July, body camera footage was released that captured what appeared to be three Baltimore police officers planting drugs at a crime scene. The filmed evidence-planting — which the police officers alleged was part of the necessary “recreation of evidence” — was another strike against the badly damaged relationship between the police department and the communities they serve. Mosby announced that her office would review roughly 100 cases that involved the officers. As of late August, 43 of those criminal cases had been thrown out.
“It is incumbent upon us as prosecutors to be the ministers of justice and to do what’s right in the pursuit of justice, over convictions, while simultaneously prioritizing public safety,” Mosby said at a press conference.
Mosby’s office also joined the many local officials who have reemphasized their city’s commitment to shielding immigrants from deportation in the wake of Trump’s election. A memo to line prosecutors from Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow in April encouraged the attorneys to “think twice before charging illegal immigrants with minor, non-violent crimes in response to stepped up immigration enforcement by the Trump administration.”
Mosby took a step further by signing onto a friend of the court brief on August 31 in support of a lawsuit brought by the city of Chicago against the Trump administration, challenging its attempts to force local government to aid federal agents in immigration enforcement by withholding grant money. It was another strong signal of her support for Baltimore’s immigrant community.
But for local Baltimore residents like Kelly Davis, Mosby’s disappointments still far outshine any progressive accomplishments.
“In the black community, which has this strained relationship with the police, you see a person that looks like you and says she’ll stand up for you,” said Davis. “But she is as much responsible if not more for the crime rate and the crisis of this city as the police.”