Our view: Celebration of officers involved in Freddie Gray’s death underscores the need for an answer to whether they will face discipline
Over the past week or so, Baltimore has witnessed some high-profile finger-pointing related to the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest and prosecution that followed. One was a media-enabled dust-up between Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby with the mayor suggesting the prosecutor acted rashly in announcing charges against a half-dozen police officers — the comment precipitated by some unflattering thoughts concerning the mayor Ms. Mosby expressed to a New York Times writer.
Less noticed was an equally controversial event involving at least three of the six police officers who were charged in Gray’s death. Lt. Brian Rice and Officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero appeared at a black-tie gala in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22 to be honored by the Media Research Center, the right-wing “media watchdog” founded by Brent Bozell III. Rarely have we heard of individuals so recently on Baltimore’s criminal docket treated so extravagantly or praised so highly. Conservative commentator Deneen Borelli called the charges filed against them the result of “politics at its very worst.”
Was there any mention of Gray, the 25-year-old who died in their custody from a severe spinal cord injury — or the ongoing internal investigation into the officers’ actions and the possible disciplinary charges they face? Such details might have put a damper on the festivities, which included a standing ovation for officers Ms. Borelli described in heroic terms — “fighting for their lives, their careers destroyed, bankrupted, humiliated.”
The incident angered Commissioner Kevin Davis, who told WBAL-TV that he’d like to explore whether existing regulations actually allow officers to attend such an event hosted by a “fringe group” that is “divisive” and “doesn’t speak to the values of Baltimore.” He didn’t mention it, but the Media Research Center has championed such causes as limiting access to contraception and railed against the broadening acceptance of non-heterosexuals. Most recently, it chastised celebrities for tweeting criticisms of police brutality in Baltimore and elsewhere. Mr. Bozell is often remembered for his 2011 interview on Fox News during which he described President Barack Obama’s appearance as that of a “skinny ghetto crackhead.”
But trying to police who cops can associate with on their off hours isn’t Commissioner Davis’ big problem here. It’s that the six Freddie Gray officers are — no doubt to his chagrin — failing to simply disappear. We can’t imagine, under the circumstances, that they will ever return to patrolling the streets of Baltimore, but Police Commissioner Kevin Davis expressed outrage when officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest were honored at a black tie gala. they’re still out there, collecting paychecks from the city, while internal investigations drag on. The fact that three of them were feted so shamefully only serves as a reminder that, nearly 18 months after Freddie Gray died and two months after Ms. Mosby dropped all charges against the officers, the Police Department has failed to determine whether they should face any discipline. What more they could be investigating, at this point, we can’t fathom.
We’ll grant that Mr. Davis is in a tricky spot. He’s trying to help negotiate a consent decree with the Department of Justice, which documented beyond question that the callous treatment Gray received at the hands of officers was tragically commonplace, and he’s walking a fine line between maintaining the support of the rank-and-file and showing empathy for the community’s complaints of mistreatment.
But at some point he needs to answer whether the actions of those six officers violated his department’s standards. Finding a quiet way for them to leave won’t cut it. Whatever Mr. Davis decides, it’s going to be unpopular with someone — either with the Fraternal Order of Police or with the many Baltimore residents who believe justice has yet to be done in this case. But as the recent turn in the spotlight by Messrs. Rice, Miller and Nero made clear, this problem isn’t going away. Mr. Davis needs to bring the disciplinary process to a conclusion, and soon. Until he does, the department will never be able to fully move on.