WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court Monday threw out a lawsuit five Baltimore police officers filed against city State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby claiming she maliciously charged them in the death of Freddie Gray.
A three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s decision that had allowed key parts of the officers’ lawsuit to proceed.
The 42-page appeals court decision rejected the officers’ claims that Mosby “maliciously” violated their rights by bringing charges without probable cause and defamed them by making false accusations at a May 1, 2015, news conference.
The appeals court sided with Mosby, whose lawyers argued that as a prosecutor, she had immunity from the officers’ lawsuit.
In a statement released by her office Monday, Mosby said, “I support the court’s opinion that the people of Baltimore elected me to deliver one standard of justice for all, and that using the legal system to reach a fair and just resolution to Gray’s death was not a political move, but rather it was my duty.”
The appeals court decision cited Maryland law and U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The court found the argument by the officers — five of the six charged in the 25-year-old Gray’s April 2015 death — “torpedoes the fundamental premise of absolute prosecutorial immunity: ensuring a fair, impartial criminal justice system, in which prosecutors have the independence to hold even powerful wrongdoers accountable without fear of vexatious litigation.”
“We resoundingly reject the invitation to cast aside decades of Supreme Court and circuit precedent to narrow the immunity prosecutors enjoy,” Chief Judge Gregory of the 4th Circuit wrote. “And we find no justification for denying Mosby the protection from suit that the Maryland legislature has granted her.”
Gregory said criminal charging documents often contain “defamatory information” and that most defendants disagree with prosecutors’ charging them.
“That the officers disagree with Mosby’s decision to prosecute … does not entitle them to litigate their disagreement in court, and much less recover damages,” the opinion said. “Perhaps to the officers’ chagrin, they must accept that they are subject to the same laws as every other defendant who has been prosecuted and acquitted. Those laws clearly bar the type of retaliatory suits that the officers brought here.”
Gray died of injuries he suffered while bouncing around in a metal cage in the back of a police transport vehicle during a circuitous, 45-minute ride. His death, which the state medical examiner’s office ruled a homicide, sparked days of protests and rioting in Baltimore. Mosby charged six officers in Gray’s arrest and death. Three were ultimately acquitted, and Mosby then dropped the remaining cases.
The five police officers argued Mosby lacked enough evidence but charged them to quell unrest in the city and that she intentionally left out of charging documents information about a witness who said Gray had been banging his head against the wall of the police van.
In January 2017, Maryland U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Garbis ruled the officers’ claims including malicious prosecution and defamation could proceed.
But Garbis dismissed the officers’ claims of false arrest, violations of their 14th Amendment right to due process and their Fourth Amendment protection against illegal searches and seizures.
Attorneys representing the officers could not immediately be reached for comment.