State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced late Thursday that a grand jury has opted to indict all six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Mosby said Gray sustained the spinal injury from injuries during arrest and that his “pleas for medical attention were ignored.”
The decision by a grand jury to indict all six cops is the latest remarkable outcome in the Baltimore case, distinguishing it from other prominent cases of police brutality including the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson. Although precise figures don’t exist, experts say that grand jury indictments of police officers are incredibly rare. One Bowling Green University study found that just 41 officers were charged in all with murder or manslaughter in a seven-year period ending in 2011, while 2,600 justifiable homicides were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation during that same period.
The fact that the grand jury in the Baltimore case indicted all six officers lends credibility to the view among many court-watchers and academics that it an indictment is in the hands of the prosecutor, even when the charges go before a grand jury. (An old saying suggests that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich if she wanted to.) “If the prosecutor wants an indictment she or he is probably going to get one because they do have so much control over the grand jury,” Andrew D. Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois told the New York Times in 2014. “The accountability for the decision to charge or not to charge rests with the prosecutor, not with the grand jury.”
Even before Thursday’s grand jury announcement, Mosby had distinguished herself from the prosecutors in several other recent police brutality cases both for opting to file murder charges against all six officers, and for the nature of her public announcement to file those charges earlier this month. “I will seek justice on your behalf,” she pledged to a cheering crowd of protesters. “This is a moment. This is your moment.”
Mosby has now differentiated her prosecution from that of many other police officers in another way: her swiftness in completing the grand jury presentation. In Brown and Garner’s cases, prosecutors presented evidence to the grand juries for months. By contrast, the typical grand jury proceeding not involving a police officers lasts a few days or less.