In the Media: Charges Dropped Against Three Remaining Officers in Gray Case
A digest of Baltimore news from local sources.
From the Baltimore Sun: Charges dropped against the three remaining officers in the Freddie Gray case
"Prosecutors dropped all charges against the three officers remaining in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray during a pre-trial motions hearing in downtown Baltimore on Wednesday morning, acknowledging the unlikelihood of a conviction following the acquittals of three other officers on similar and more serious charges.
"The move was the first such acknowledgment by prosecutors in the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby after more than a year of dogged fighting, against increasingly heavy odds, to hold someone criminally accountable in the case.
"Mosby’s office has now failed to win a conviction in five straight trials. Officer William Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury and a mistrial in December, before Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams acquitted Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson and Lt. Brian Rice at bench trials in May, June, and July, respectively.
"Miller was expected on Wednesday to select a bench trial as well, meaning his fate would also be in Williams’ hands. Miller was charged with second-degree assault and misconduct in office in relation to his detention and arrest of Gray, and reckless endangerment and a second misconduct in office charge related to Gray’s placement in the back of a police transport van without being restrained with a seat belt.
"Gray, 25, suffered severe spinal cord injuries in the back of the van in April 2015 and died a week after his arrest. His death sparked widespread, peaceful protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson.
"The decision Wednesday to drop the charges against came during what was expected to be a contentious hearing surrounding the prosecution’s ability to proceed with Miller’s trial without using anything he said on the witness stand in Nero’s trial against him."
From the Baltimore Sun: Baltimore considers increasing water bills by 33 percent, charging new fees
"Baltimore residents would pay about 33 percent more for water and be charged two new fees under a three-year plan being considered by city officials to help fix the city's crumbling infrastructure and error-plagued billing system.
"Water rates would increase an average of 9.9 percent annually and sewer rates would increase 9 percent a year through fiscal year 2019. The plan also calls for new 'infrastructure' and 'account management' charges.
"The Department of Public Works said the yearly water bill for a typical family would likely increase about $170 by the third year of the plan.
"The rate proposals also include increases for the city's water customers in Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Howard counties.
"'Baltimore City must continue to invest in our underground infrastructure,' Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement Tuesday. 'Raising rates is never easy, but ensuring quality water service and a cleaner environment has to be our legacy.'
"The city's finance and public works directors are recommending the rate increases to the Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Rawlings-Blake. The Department of Public Works has requested a public hearing in August.
"The proposed rate increases are expected to meet opposition.
"Michael Eugene Johnson, director of the Paul Robeson Institute for Social Change, said in an email that he is rallying community members to "take a stand and organize against this ... serious issue, and we mean a real stand on this 'life and death' issue."
"City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt said her auditors are analyzing the proposal to determine whether the rate increase is necessary.
"Rawlings-Blake blamed Congress for not providing cities with more federal money to upgrade aging pipes and water and sewer facilities.
"'Because this has not been done,' she said, 'we alone must continue the progress we have made to protect our citizens by renewing our mains and reducing disruptions caused by water main breaks and sewer overflows.'
"As part of the overhaul of the city's water-billing system, officials say they plan to switch from a quarterly billing cycle to monthly bills starting Oct. 11.
"City officials say the rate increases are needed to finish the 'replacement of all residential and commercial water meters in both Baltimore City and Baltimore County.'
"The new meters are being outfitted with wireless technology that is supposed to make meter-reading more accurate and improve the timeliness of billing.
"Customers have long complained about erroneous water bills. The problem issue gained widespread attention in 2012 when the city auditor found that the Department of Public Works had overcharged thousands of homes and businesses by a total of at least $9 million.
"The new system will eliminate the current minimum-use charges for properties that use little or no water. Instead, the city plans to begin charging an account management fee to pay for billing and customer-support services and an infrastructure charge to help pay to fix pipes and other infrastructure.
"The management fee would will be a set amount. The infrastructure fee would vary based on the type of meter a customer uses — with higher fees for larger meters.
"Officials said the increases would will help the city comply with federal and state mandates 'protecting public health and environment, as well as investing in our aging underground water and sewer systems.'"
From City Paper: Health officials are trying to curtail violence by treating trauma, but the people who need help most are not seeking it
"David Ross walks the halls of the University of Maryland's Shock Trauma Center dressed in scrubs. He waits for victims of stabbings, shootings, and assaults to recover from their injuries—and then makes his move.
"As those patients are stabilized and begin to feel better, Ross approaches. He begins somewhat informally, speaking to them like a friend, a guy the victim might bump into on the street.
"'When they are the most vulnerable, it's the best time to get them into service,' said Ross, a Baltimore native and specialist with Shock Trauma's Violence Intervention Program.
"More than a dozen times each week, hundreds of times a year, Ross approaches victims of violence who stream through Shock Trauma. The scrubs are perfect cover.
"'At one point I would go into the room in professional clothes and they would ask, "Are you a cop?"' Ross said, explaining that many of the victims have had previous brushes with the law.
"For the people who come through Shock Trauma, Ross offers a friendly ear and help untangling portions of their complicated lives. If they ask for it, or give permission, he makes calls to patients' probation officers. He calls their parents. In the frenzied rush to find entry wounds on gunshot victims, emergency room staffers often cut off their clothes and Ross offers them clothes to wear home.
"Just before each patient is discharged, he approaches them one more time. He tries to close the deal. He attempts to convince someone who has been shot, stabbed, or assaulted—specifically those who fit a profile of victims who are most likely to retaliate or land back in the emergency room—to spend some time with Shock Trauma's Violence Intervention Program. For nearly two decades, the program has sought to reduce violence by treating the trauma that many of the victims of violence have been suffering from since childhood.
"As a violence intervention specialist, Ross tries to convince them to spend the next few months revisiting some of the most painful episodes of their lives, incidents which have led to problems with managing anger, drug abuse, and frequent run-ins with the law. In many cases, these things are a contributing factor in the incident that landed the victim in the emergency room in the first place. Treat the trauma and most likely the victim won't return to the emergency room; fail to do so and it's likely they will be back with another injury, or worse, they will be killed, Ross explained.
"More times than not, Ross fails. And for those who return to ER, holding on to them is difficult.
"'If they haven't begun to take the necessary steps to change their lives, it's hard to change their environment,' he said. 'They will eventually come back at one point or another and sometimes it's fatal.'
"Homicides dominate the headlines in Baltimore. The city's 344 murders in 2015 marked the highest tally since 1993, when the city had roughly 100,000 more residents. Law enforcement, criminal justice experts, and policymakers spent much of last year floating theories about the spike. The 'Ferguson Effect,' the theory that cops under intense scrutiny couldn't effectively police anymore, was the first thing attributed to the spike. During a CompStat meeting in June 2015, former police Commissioner Anthony Batts said looting during the uprising left the drug market awash in excess prescription opioids. As a result, the market was disrupted, fueling violence among drug dealers. It's unclear to what degree these factors impacted the rash of homicides, but those closest to the victims blamed the same constellation they say has always fueled violence in Baltimore: drug addiction, poverty, unemployment, and repeated exposure to violence and trauma.
"For decades the answer to the violence was to flood the affected areas with cops and arrest and incarcerate. Decades of violent crime led Baltimore to adopt the zero tolerance policing policies that were lauded for reducing crime in New York. By 2005, Baltimore was arresting around 100,000 people, or one-sixth of the city's population each year. A federal lawsuit filed by the NAACP and the ACLU in 2006 put a stop to the pattern of mass arrest—and the attendant disproportionately non-white confinement—as a crime strategy. But questions have lingered about whether the strategy, which buttressed former Mayor Martin O'Malley's political career, worked as effectively as proponents claimed.
"Baltimore's homicide rate declined, but the rate also dropped nationwide. And nearly 700 people who had been stabbed or shot here were streaming through Shock Trauma each year, according to officials in the unit.
"Decades of treating violence as a criminal justice matter are slowly being replaced by a new paradigm focused on treatment. Like the opioid addiction crisis, health care officials insist that stemming violent crime in Baltimore can't be accomplished by mass incarceration. The strategy being pursued in Baltimore now is shifting and broadening to treat the trauma that often drives the violence.
"'The victims of violence are suffering trauma,' said Leana Wen, Baltimore City Public Health Commissioner. 'We know the perpetrators of violence are experiencing trauma.'
"The plan to reduce violence is to target the city's younger population. Residents under the age of 25 account for 51 percent of Baltimore arrests for violent crimes and 49 percent of the weapons-related arrests in 2015, according to the city's 2015 Youth Wellness working group report."