A rush to judgment against 6 Baltimore police officers for the death of Freddie Gray? Hardly.

Opinion, NakedLaw, News

Last week, Baltimore’s State Attorney General, Marilyn Mosby, announced at a press conference a stunning array of charges against six police officers.

Alleging that they improperly arrested Freddie Gray, 25, without probable cause, Mosby said the knife he was carrying was legal. Ignoring Gray’s pleas that he could not breathe and his request for his inhaler, the police officers shackled his hands and feet, putting him face down without a seatbelt in the back of a police van, she said. While the van stopped four times, Gray continued to ask for medical assistance, as his condition “seriously deteriorated,” according to Mosby’s probable cause statement. Finally, at the fifth stop, paramedics were called, 45 minutes after he’d been arrested.

The medic who arrived at the scene said at that point Gray was “in cardiac arrest and was critically and severely injured.” Gray was unconscious. A week later, he died of his injuries. The medical examiner concluded that Gray was a victim of homicide as a result of the fatal injuries he incurred unrestrained in the Baltimore Police wagon.

Shock and criticism at a prosecutor doing her job

Two weeks later, after an investigation, Mosby charged the arresting officers, the driver and the officer who responded to citizen complaints with assault, misconduct, false imprisonment, manslaughter and “depraved heart murder,” which is the taking of a human life by actions showing a high degree of recklessness.

Immediately, critics complained that she’d acted too quickly. Criminal defense attorney and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said that Mosby was politically motivated, calling the charges “outrageous and irresponsible.” The Baltimore Sun ran an op-ed piece calling the charges “incompetent at best.” The Fraternal Order of Police criticized Mosby’s “egregious rush to judgment.”

Buzz phrases like these ignore the fact that Mosby did precisely what prosecutors are supposed to do: review the evidence and make a determination as to whether probable cause exists that a crime has been committed. We are so unused to prosecutors actually doing this when the victim is a black man and the killers are police, that she was swiftly elevated to heroine status in the civil rights community, her name trending on Twitter, where she was often compared to “Scandal’s” Olivia Pope.

What Mosby’s critics miss

1. Rush to judgment? No. Mosby is legally required to exercise her professional judgment, and that’s what she did. True, she could have submitted the matter to a grand jury. But anyone who thinks grand juries bring justice in police shooting cases has not been reading the news for the last year. (Here’s my video presentation on the shameful grand jury proceeding in Ferguson, for example.)

RELATED: Lisa Bloom covers events in Ferguson, Mo.

The secrecy of grand juries is the absolute wrong approach in a police shooting case.The ACLU, bless them, is still trying to get the grand jury transcript in New York regarding the death of Eric Garner, which led to nationwide protests. We still have no idea why a chokehold we all saw on the video was deemed not a chokehold, and whether the prosecutor there acted like a defense attorney behind closed doors.

Transparency is critical. Prosecutors acting decisively in police shooting cases is critical. As Mosby said, “Accountability. You’re getting it today.”

2. The legal judgment will come only after a trial, at which the officers are presumed innocent. They will be represented by counsel, and have the chance to present any and all defenses. Mosby is not the judge or jury. She merely finds probable cause, to begin the case. In the legal sense, she does not have the power to rush to judgment.

3. Probable cause is the lowest standard we have in our court system. It merely requires a showing of some credible evidence to support the charges. It’s lower than the preponderance of evidence standard in civil cases, and much lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” level of proof required for a criminal conviction.

4. Mosby is ethically prohibited from detailing the evidence against the officers, so we don’t know what proof she has. Of course, as in any criminal case, convictions will all hinge on the evidence. What we do know is that her team reviewed the following:

  • Dozens of witness interviews,
  • Numerous hours of video footage,
  • Hours of police videotaped statements,
  • A survey of the route,
  • Voluminous medical records, and
  • Other information (unspecified)

That’s plenty of evidence to support probable cause.

Reading between the lines, it looks to me that Mosby matched up the officers’ statements with video footage and the medical records, and they didn’t jibe.

That’s enough for probable cause.

RELATED: Do police lie?

Freddie Gray was a healthy 25-year-old man who was arrested, put into a police van, and less than an hour later emerged with a catastrophic spinal injury that caused his death. He could not have been a threat to anyone while alone, unarmed and shackled in the back of the van.

That’s enough for probable cause.

Baltimore police have been hit with millions of dollars in awards for “rough rides” in police vans causing injuries and deaths to citizens over the last decade. As a result, department policy requires seat belts. Gray was not belted.

That’s enough for probable cause.

Prosecutors typically file charges after a few days or a few weeks of investigation. Why should police get special treatment? It appears to me that Mosby had all the evidence she needed to review to make a determination. To her critics: what evidence remained outstanding that should have slowed her down? This is not a complicated case. It revolves around one hour of one day, was witnessed by multiple people, and some of it was recorded on video.

Mosby ran on a platform that no one is above the law, a core American value. Her action in charging the six officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray lived up to that promise.

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.