The ghost of Freddie Gray haunts Baltimore's elections

The race to elect new state’s attorneys in Maryland is heating up, including the reelection bid of Baltimore’s now famous (infamous?) Marilyn Mosby. If you’re familiar with that name it’s probably because she was the one in charge during the Freddie Gray riots and the subsequent failed attempts to prosecute six Baltimore police officers over their actions during Gray’s arrest and death. So you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find that the campaign literature making the rounds this month includes pictures of Mosby making her famous announcement and reminders of those ill-considered trials.

But there’s a catch. Freddie Gray isn’t getting much attention in Mosby’s race where she’s facing several challengers in the city’s Democratic primary. As the Baltimore Sun reports, out in the more rural and conservative Harford County, one of Mosby’s former prosecutors is running for state’s attorney and his opponent is using the memory of the Freddie Gray police trials to hammer away at him.

One side of the political mailer shows the famous 2015 photo of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on the steps of downtown’s War Memorial building as she announced charges in the death of Freddie Gray. The other side accuses her of prosecuting six “INNOCENT” Baltimore police officers.

But the ad wasn’t aimed at voters in Baltimore, where Mosby faces serious challenges from two rival Democrats in the June 26 primary election.

It was sent to Republicans in semi-rural Harford County, an hour’s drive from where Gray lived and died in West Baltimore.

The target is Albert Peisinger, a former prosecutor in Mosby’s office who is now hoping to become state’s attorney in Harford County. Peisinger can be seen in the photo standing behind Mosby as she made her announcement.

For his part, Albert Peisinger is crying foul. He does appear in the famous photo of Mosby announcing charges against the cops, but he claims that he had nothing to do with the decision. He states that he never believed there was enough evidence to bring charges against the cops and wasn’t involved in prosecuting them. Going one step further, Dave Ryden, present Deputy State’s Attorney for Harford County, describes a training event he was at with roughly 100 other prosecutors on the day Mosby made the announcement, saying that most of the prosecutors were “shocked” that she was going ahead with the plan.

Here’s one question to consider, completely aside from this year’s elections. Where was the news of Peisinger’s objections back when the trials were announced and playing out under a national media microscope? I was following those trials very closely (and writing about them here on a weekly basis) and I don’t recall any dissent among the ranks at City Hall. If Peisinger was so put off by it, did he say anything in public at the time? If not, this defense might ring a bit hollow.

The drama playing out in that Harford County election is, however, a reminder of just how badly the Freddie Gray police trials divided Baltimore, the state of Maryland and the entire nation. It’s been proven that we do, on occasion, run across bad cops who abuse their office and cause real harm to people. Hopefully, we’re doing a better job now of weeding those bad apples out of the barrel. But if the backlash against people like Michael Slager (currently doing 20 years for shooting Walter Scott in the back) results in police officers in difficult situations being prosecuted for simply doing their jobs, the system is still off kilter.

And, as we’re seeing this year, the debate will continue, and it’s spilling over into elections. If Marilyn Mosby is replaced in Baltimore, it will be by another Democrat and it’s unlikely much will change. But perhaps this subject can move the needle elsewhere.

This article was corrected to note that it was Dave Ryden, Deputy State’s Attorney for Harford County, who attended the training session in question, not Albert Peisinger.

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