2 officers in Freddie Gray case sue prosecutor for defamation over their arrests

Sgt. Alicia D. White and Officer William G. Porter © Baltimore Police Department
Two Baltimore Police Department officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray are suing Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby for ruining their reputations. They say they were illegally charged for the homicide.

Sergeant Alicia White and Officer William Porter filed the lawsuit against Mosby in Baltimore City Circuit Court based on her statements at a May 1, 2015 press conference in which Mosby announced that Gray’s in-custody death was a homicide and that she was charging the six officers involved with the arrest with a variety of charges, ranging from misconduct in office to second degree depraved-heart murder.

They claim that Mosby included “false statements” in the Application for Statement of Charges and “spoke in a divisive and inciting manner” during the press conference in which she outlined the charges she was filing against the six officers, the lawsuit says.

Along with Mosby, White and Porter are also suing Major Samuel Cogan with the Baltimore City Sheriff’s Office, as well as the State of Maryland. The two plaintiffs are claiming two counts each of defamation and false light invasion of privacy.

They claim that they were illegally arrested due to charges that were filed “either negligently” or “intentionally, with ill will, improper motivation and/or evil purpose” as a direct result of “an improperly motivated investigation… brought for the purpose of stopping the riots rather than prosecuting charges supported by probable cause,” the lawsuit says. Mosby and Cogan both acted either negligently or with gross negligence or active malice directed at White and Porter “in furtherance of the Defendants’ own personal interests and political agendas.”

The press conference violated Maryland Rule of Professional Conduct 3.6(a), the court documents say, because Mosby both participated in the investigation into Gray’s death and made an “extrajudicial statement” that she knew or reasonably knew would be “disseminated by means of public communication” and would “have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing” the proceedings.

The key point leading to the charges against the six officers was that Gray’s arrest was illegal because the knife he was arrested for carrying was “not a switchblade and [was] lawful under Maryland law,” Mosby said. The plaintiffs, though, argue that the weapon was spring-assisted, and illegal in Baltimore City, giving police probable cause to detain Gray.

Mosby also never independently investigated the arresting incident, the lawsuit says. Instead, she merely reviewed recorded statements from the six officers, interviews that were conducted by the Baltimore Police Department, not her office. Those statements, according to the court documents, “did not support the charges brought” against White and Porter, and directly contradicted at least eight different comments Mosby made during her press conference.

The two officers also took umbrage with statements the state’s attorney made at the press conference, which they argue was done “for purposes of quelling the riots rather than prosecuting police officers who had committed crimes.”

© Adrees Latif

Mosby’s remarks “went well beyond and exceed the authority and role of the State’s Attorney’s Office,” and she brought charges, which were filed by Cogan, against the officers “that were wholly unsupported by evidence and probably cause and for a purpose other than her role: prosecuting those who had committed crimes,” the lawsuit reads.

Both defendants knew at the time the charges against White and Porter were filed that neither had committed a crime. On top of that, Mosby “provided erroneous legal advice” when she asked Cogan to file the charges, the court documents claim.

White, 31, and Porter, 26, are both charged with involuntary manslaughter, second degree assault and misconduct in office. Porter was the first of the six officers to stand trial for Gray’s death. His case ended with the declaration of a mistrial due to a hung jury in December. All six officers pleaded not guilty to the myriad charges against them.

© Adrees Latif

The lawsuit was initially filed on May 2, but was not made public until Wednesday, when Judge Althea Handy denied the plaintiffs’ motion to seal the case. The officers had asked that the suit be sealed to "avoid any suggestion" that they were "not complying with the spirit of" a gag order in their criminal cases issued by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, as well as to "avoid any additional pretrial publicity in connection with their upcoming criminal trials."

The officers "failed to provide a special and compelling reason to preclude or limit inspection of the case record sufficient to overcome the presumption of openness" under Maryland law, Handy wrote in her denial.

Both the State’s Attorney’s Office and the sheriff’s office declined to comment to the Baltimore Sun about the suit, citing Williams’ gag order in the criminal cases.

The lawsuit was filed this month because of statute of limitations concerns, the Sun reported.

Porter is set to be retried at the beginning of September, while White’s is scheduled for mid-October. A verdict has only been rendered for one of the involved officers: Williams declared Officer Edward Nero, 30, not guilty on Monday.