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A tale of two Ryans

P. Kenneth Burns
Baltimore FOP President Lt. Gene Ryan (file photo)

As you’d expect, Lt. Gene Ryan was a satisfied man Monday when Lt. Brian Rice was acquitted of all charges in Freddie Gray’s death.

Ryan, the head of Baltimore’s police union, has been among the most vocal critics of the charges filed against six police officers in the case and of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby.  And some of that criticism has been inflammatory.

He once again “strongly urge[d] Mrs. Mosby to stop her malicious prosecution against the remaining three officers.”

“Based upon the evidence in previous trials, we are certain the remaining three officers will also be found not guilty,” he said.

And Ryan punctuated his statement by saying city citizens should be concerned about the tactics Mosby’s prosecutors have used.

“In each of four cases, Mrs. Mosby’s office has been chastised by the court for their failure to follow proper rules of evidence as required by law.”

Richard Vatz, a professor of rhetoric at Towson University, analyzed Ryan’s statement.  He said the statement was good with the exception of “three to four sentences.”

“I think that that is perfectly appropriate to say that our policemen are not being treated fairly, as evidenced by the outcome,” he says.

But Vatz added there was no reason for Ryan to call out Mosby by name.

“Don’t mention her name.  Everyone knows who she is.  There’s no need to mention her name” he said. “No need to make it personal.”

The two Ryan’s

Looking at some of the comments Ryan has made in the last year, Vatz said there are two Gene Ryan’s present.

“You have the one who is talking about analysis of the unrest and the ramifications; that’s perfectly appropriate for him to talk about,” he said.  “The other is the fellow who wants to get personal and call names and be cute in some of his posts; you don’t want to do that.”

Shortly after Gray died of injuries suffered in the back of a police van, Ryan referred to protesters who wanted the officers involved to be jailed immediately as a “lynch mob.”  Ryan later retracted the comments.  But Vatz says it would have been better if he had never used the word “lynch.”

“There’s a big difference between saying you were facing a mob and facing a lynch mob,” he said, “it’s a difference of one word. “’Lynch’ really changes the entire characterization of that remark.”

When Officer Caesar Goodson was acquitted in June of the most serious charges in the case, including second degree depraved heart murder, the union tweeted a picture of Leonardo DiCaprio toasting with the inscription “Here’s to the Baltimore 6 defense team, the FOP and Detective Taylor.” 

They also tweeted a picture of Mosby with the tag, “The wolf that lurks.”

And Ryan said trust between officers and residents need to be rebuilt.

“But that’s going to be an issue for somebody above my pay grade – the commissioner and his staff – to get the community back together again,” he added.

What can Ryan do?

Vatz says if Ryan wants to rebuild trust he could start by not taking pot shots at Mosby and stop making things difficult for Commissioner Kevin Davis.

“Why would you want to make things difficult for Kevin Davis when you finally have the opportunity to perhaps win back the city; why get into this,” he asked.

Instead, Vatz said, Ryan should let the facts of the case speak for themselves and not undermine his statements with personal attacks.

Davis was not available to comment, but he was critical of the FOP tweets celebrating Goodson’s acquittal.  Those tweets were quickly deleted.

Ryan failed to respond to multiple interview requests.

Rochelle Ritchie, spokeswoman for Mosby, said in a statement Mosby would like to comment but the “egregious attacks” are subject to a gag order imposed by Circuit Judge Barry Williams, who is presiding over the trials related to Gray’s death.

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