Professor David Jaros was interviewed for a HuffPost Live segment on the indictment of six Baltimore police officers for their roles in the arrest and ultimate death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April. A medical investigation found that Gray died of a spinal-cord injury suffered during a ride in a police van, when he was handcuffed and shackled and — according to Police Commissioner Anthony Batts — not secured by a seat belt. Gray’s death touched off disturbances in the city that prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to declare a state of emergency and to activate the National Guard.
Gray, who was African-American, was arrested on April 12 when police said he ran from them. Officers involved in the arrest said that, upon capture, Gray was discovered to possess an illegal switchblade.
Establishing the specific nature of the knife is key because not all knives are illegal to carry. But attorneys for the police officers said this week that they had not been allowed to inspect a knife taken from Gray during his arrest.
Gray died April 19.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced on May 1 that her office had filed charges against the six officers after it received the medical examiner’s report ruling Gray’s death a homicide. Charges include second-degree depraved-heart murder and involuntary manslaughter.
In the May 22 HuffPost Live video segment, host Marc Lamont Hill talked with Jaros, Wake Forest University School of Law professor and former federal prosecutor Kami Chavis Simmons, and activist and organizer DeRay McKesson.
Asked by Hill if he thought Mosby had “overreached,” Jaros responded, “Prosecutors overreach all the time.”
“I think that [Mosby] is going to have a very hard time proving, for example, the depraved indifference charge,” Jaros said. “Prosecutors should not be charging crimes that they cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court.”
Jaros added that it was important to avoid a double standard in which “the police are the only ones who aren’t overcharged and every other person, or particularly minority men in urban environments, are the ones who are overcharged.”
He also addressed the issue of whether police are justified in pursuing a person who runs from them.
“That’s something a judge would decide,” Jaros said, adding that several “very bad” Supreme Court decisions hold that “if you run from cops, that’s an indication of a guilty mind and the police can respond to that.”
“What I think the Freddie Gray case proves strongly is that some of those assumptions in those [Supreme Court] cases are really false and there are good reasons why someone might run from the police wholly separate from any question of whether or not they’d done anything wrong,” Jaros said. “And so one hope is that judges themselves can get educated from this case and we start to question some of the fundamental assumptions that ground those cases.
“Unfortunately, as the case law stands right now there is a strong argument that if, in a high-crime area, someone runs from the police, the police are authorized to go and grab them.
“And then the question becomes, well, did they have probable cause to arrest [Gray] and that becomes a question about the knife.”