Profile: Marilyn Mosby, Incumbent for Baltimore City State's Attorney
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s first three and a half years in office have been marked by contradictions. She successfully prosecuted a number of violent criminals, but came under fire as her cases against six city police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray fell apart. Mosby, who is running for re-election, says she wouldn’t do anything differently.
In her first months in office, Marilyn Mosby put away a reputed gang hit man, a member of the Black Guerilla Family and a serial sex offender. But then came the Freddie Gray case.
“Would I do it all over again?" says Mosby. "I absolutely would. Justice is always worth the price paid for its pursuit.”
She says that the national exposure helped bring about the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the Baltimore City Police Department and the federal consent decree to reform the department’s policies and practices.
“I’m sure she would have done it all over again, because in a way it did pay off for her," says Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins political science professor and author of Baltimore: A Political History.
He says the national attention came at a time when prosecutors elsewhere in the country were absolving police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.
“She was one of the first to take an active role in prosecuting police officers that she alleged to be responsible for the death of an unarmed man," says Crenson.
But it also soured her relationship with the city’s police union, an organization that backed her first run against then state’s attorney Gregg Bernstein in 2014.
“We, of course, were going to support her 100 percent until things changed," says Gene Ryan, president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.
He says things changed with the charges of the six officers in the Gray case.
“They were maliciously and wrongfully charged because when it was litigated they were all found innocent," says Ryan. "So she, obviously, didn’t have the evidence to prove her case.”
After one trial ended in a hung jury and two others in acquittals, Mosby dropped all remaining charges. Ryan says the case broke the relationship between Mosby’s office and police.
"And I know we have to rebuild that public trust," says Ryan. "But she hurt, she crippled police work in Baltimore City as we know it.”
Mosby points out that she grew up in a “blue” family, the daughter and granddaughter of Boston police officers. She graduated from Boston College Law School and came to Baltimore to work as an assistant state’s attorney, first for Pat Jessamy and then Gregg Bernstein before she left in 2012 to become an insurance company lawyer. She was back two years later to unseat Bernstein.
She scored some victories early on, before the Freddie Gray case. And more recently, the federal Gun Trace Task Force trial exposed systemic corruption in the police department and compromised thousands of cases.
Mosby came under fire for using the officers convicted of federal crimes as witnesses in previous trials and for not realizing the extent of the corruption. She scoffs at that criticism.
“So to say that my office somehow dropped the ball and should have known, is absurd," says Mosby.
While trying to clean up the cases compromised by the GTTF revelations, Mosby has also called for criminal justice reform, repeatedly visiting state lawmakers in Annapolis. Her biggest win was The Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act. The act requires courts to bring up a defendant’s past sexual assault history when standing trail.
“Times up on serial sexual predators," says Mosby. "And I’m so grateful it pass during sexual assault awareness month. I mean how significant is that in the year of the women and the “Me Too” movement?”
Kurt Schmoke, president of the University of Baltimore and former state’s attorney, says good news about Mosby outweighs the bad.
“I think the decisions she has made have been within the best interest of the community," says Schmoke. "While there may be—you know some would argue about—some of the charging decisions that she has made, I think overall that she’s done a good job.”
At Mosby’s swearing in, Schmoke read the words of former Attorney General Robert Jackson, who served under President Franklin Roosevelt.
The prosecutor “at his best is one of the most beneficent forces in our society” but when acting out of “malice or other base motives, he is one of the worst.”
“That’s an incredibly powerful job, and you should use great care and discretion when exercising that power," says Schmoke.
While challengers in her last race and this race—former prosecutors, Ivan Bates and Thiru Vigarajah—have continually questioned her discretion and experience, Mosby disregards it.
"You know I just chalk it up as just another misogynistic, chauvinist sort of way or to challenge the only person with experience in the race," says Mosby.
But Crenson, the political science professor, says Mosby’s ability to reach out to African-American women may give her an electoral edge.
“The biggest single group in the electorate in African-American women. African-American women over the last several elections have elected African-American women," says Crenson.
That could be Mosby’s ticket to win the June primary, as well as the election because there are no Republicans in the race.