What's Missing in the Indictments Over Freddie Gray's Death

There's one notable exception in the grand jury charges against six Baltimore police officers.

Adrees Latif / Reuters

In a very brief news conference at the end of the day Thursday, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that a grand jury had indicted six officers in the death of Freddie Gray.

For the most part, the indictments closely track the charges the Baltimore prosecutor announced in a May 1 press conference. (ABC2’s Christian Schaffer has the full charges here.) In particular, the second-degree depraved-heart murder charge against Officer Caesar Goodson, the most serious of the charges, remains. All six officers were also indicted for reckless endangerment, which was not on the original charge sheet.

The big change: None of the officers was indicted for false imprisonment. That’s notable, because Mosby emphasized during her initial statement that Gray’s very arrest was illegal, saying officers had no basis for detaining him.

Argument since Mosby’s May 1 announcement has focused on the knife Gray was carrying. Attorneys for the officers say that the knife was in fact illegal, making the arrest legal. The debate hinges on both the jurisdiction and whether the knife was spring-loaded. Prosecutors indicated earlier this week that they believe the arrest was illegal even outside of that debate, since Gray was arrested before officers discovered his blade.

Mosby didn’t offer any comment on the dropped false imprisonment charge on Thursday. Earlier this month, I spoke with David Jaros, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, who noted that a false-imprisonment charge in a case like this was unusual. While he said it could prove to be a useful tool for prosecutors in trying to tamp down police abuse, he also doubted that prosecutors would use it. “At the end of the day, prosecutors want police officers out there making arrests. I think most prosecutors think the solution to being arrested for actions that are not a crime is simply that [arrestees] get released,” he told me.

Grand juries are generally fairly willing to follow prosecutors’ lead on charges, so it’s not a surprise that the indictments largely follow Mosby’s original charge sheet. But she did come in for criticism from observers who felt that she had moved too quickly after Gray’s death and should have waited for a grand jury to review charges. Thursday’s indictment ratifies most of her original judgment, but the broader question of whether Mosby’s charges are well-suited to the case won’t become clear until later in the process. The six officers are due to be arraigned on July 2.