David Dishneau and Curt Anderson, Yahoo! News, May 1, 2015
The refusal of authorities to provide more than a few sketchy details about the Freddie Gray investigation may be legally appropriate, but many people in Baltimore were finding it hard to be patient Thursday when police revealed next to nothing about the criminal investigation they turned over to the state’s attorney’s office.
Nearly two weeks after Gray’s death, the public still doesn’t know much more than it did on Day One. The central question–what caused his fatal spinal cord injury–remains a mystery.
“The transparency is just not there,” the Rev. Cortly “C.D.” Witherspoon said after Police Commissioner Anthony Batts refused to answer any questions Thursday.
Batts said his department’s report was delivered a day ahead of time to State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and that from now on, any questions should go to her.
A coalition of news media organizations, including The Associated Press, sent a letter Thursday evening to the Baltimore Police Department seeking the immediate release of the report as information that would serve the public interest.
Baltimore police have been less forthcoming than police in Ferguson, Missouri, after white officer Darren Wilson fatally shot a black man, 18-year-old, Michael Brown, last year in an incident officially deemed self-defense. For example, Baltimore police haven’t publicly revealed the suspended officers’ races or disciplinary histories.
Legal experts and the Gray family lawyers say secrecy is appropriate at this point in the probe, when it’s still possible that some witnesses haven’t been questioned, or even found.
“By releasing too many details, you run the risk that witnesses’ testimony will change to mirror the details you have released,” said David S. Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice in Miami. He said investigators must verify or corroborate much of the information they receive, and meanwhile the public could be misled that the probe is leading to a particular outcome.
Investigators also face challenges with police that are different from killings by civilians. There’s the question of whether an officer acted “reasonably” considering the circumstances–a common defense in use-of-force cases. And investigators can’t simply force officers to give statements or lose their jobs, because that would mean their testimony is coerced, and therefore wouldn’t hold up in court, Weinstein said.
“If they are compelled to give a statement as a condition of their employment, you cannot then use those statements against them in a criminal proceeding,” he said. “This is where the decision to grant immunity comes into play.”
The Gray family’s lawyers sought to dispel the idea that the police report would be made public at this point.
“This family wants justice, and they want justice that comes at the right time and not too soon,” attorney Hassan Murphy said Wednesday.
People are right to demand transparency, but the appropriate time for disclosure is either during a trial, if charges are filed, or when prosecutors announce no indictments, said Steve Levin, a former federal prosecutor in Baltimore who now works as a defense attorney.