Baltimore judge: Charges against police in Gray case can go forward

By Ian Simpson

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A judge on Wednesday rejected defense motions to drop charges against six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of a black man from an injury in custody, clearing the way for scheduled trial next month.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams also rejected a defense motion calling for State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby and her office to recuse themselves from the Freddie Gray case.

The death of Gray, 25, drew worldwide attention when it triggered protests and a day of rioting, arson and looting. The case became part of a national debate on police treatment of minorities in the United States.

Security at the downtown courthouse was enhanced for the hearing and protesters rallied outside, decrying what they called militarization of police. One person was arrested.

Williams rejected the defense contention that Mosby violated her obligation to assure a fair trial when she announced the charges at a news conference as the largely black city of 620,000 people was in turmoil.

Williams said that point would best be settled in a misconduct proceeding, not in his courtroom. He said Mosby's comments did not warrant dropping charges.

"The motion is hereby dismissed," he said before a courtroom nearly filled with reporters and spectators.

Defense arguments that Mosby's comments would prejudice jurors could be raised when a jury is selected, Williams said. Trial is set for Oct. 13.

Lawyers for the officers had contended that Mosby had publicized evidence when she announced the charges.

Williams also turned back the defense request for recusal that contended Mosby's office had investigated the case and thus created a conflict of interest.

Defense attorneys said Mosby could be called as a witness because she had targeted the street corner where Gray fled officers for heightened policing. Her office also must have had contacts with the medical examiner who had ruled Gray's death a homicide, they said.

They also called for her to step aside because her husband is a city councilman for the district where Gray died and she had links to the lawyer for Gray's family. Williams rejected all those arguments.

Prosecutors have contended that defense lawyers are trying to divert attention from the officers' role in Gray's death.

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Schatzow said Mosby had acted as a law enforcement official in announcing the charges and had never said that the officers were guilty.

Gray was arrested on April 12 after a foot chase in crime-ridden West Baltimore. He was bundled into a police transport van while in handcuffs and shackles and was not seat-belted.

Gray suffered a severe spinal injury and died a week later.

Charges against the officers range from second-degree murder for the driver to manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct.

Prosecutors contend Gray was arrested illegally since he was put in handcuffs before officers found a banned switchblade knife in his pocket.

Another pretrial hearing is set for Sept. 10 on whether the case should be moved from Baltimore because of publicity surrounding the trial.

Baltimore has recorded 225 homicides this year, more than for all of 2014, according to a tally by the Baltimore Sun.

(Additional reporting by Donna Owens)