One Baltimore #46: The State’s Attorney

7/15/22

Hello, it’s me, back at it with the blogging! Hope the last year and a half has treated you all, uh, if not well then at least with some mercies? I didn’t necessarily expect I’d be writing another one of these columns at this point (not that I didn’t want to be, I’ve missed this), but this coming Tuesday, July 19th is the Maryland primary election, which means it’s the general election as far as Baltimore City races are concerned, since all the seats here go Dem, and the State’s Attorney’s race… the State’s Attorney’s race is way too important and FUCKED up not to touch on. Bottom line, the incumbent, Marilyn Mosby, is ruining lives like there’s no tomorrow, and at least one of her opponents (Thiru) is just as dangerous as she is, and I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to speak up about it. Tl;dr version: Ivan Bates for SA if you like it when innocent people aren’t maliciously framed for murder. 

Ok, so what does the State’s Attorney’s office even do anyway? Each civil jurisdiction gets one and they pursue all prosecutions on behalf of the government. That’s over 40,000 cases a year for the 200+ attorneys on the payroll of the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City (pretty impressive caseload considering our total population within the city limits is under 600k). And the SA is their boss, the top law-jockey.

Oops, did I say 200+ attorneys just now? Sorry, I got that from the SAO’s website’s “About” page but it turns out that number is a bit out of date. According to recent reporting from the Baltimore Sun, there are actually only 133 people with a law degree working for the office, and not all of them actively pursue cases. Huh! That’s a third of the staff they say they have who are in fact missing. Kind of a lot, what’s up with that? WELL, the Sun also recently reported that job satisfaction in the SAO is real, REAL bad. I’m gonna quote liberally from this article (https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/crime/bs-md-ci-cr-marilyn-mosby-staffing-crisis-20220606-ln35rnzz5rbhlhaowpkxycibsa-story.html) because it’s under a paywall. Highlights:

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Interviews in recent weeks with more than two dozen current and former prosecutors, the majority of who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, reveal an office where grueling hours, large caseloads and depleted morale have driven people out.

The institutional knowledge that’s been lost is astonishing and it has a catastrophic effect…

Several current and former employees said executive leadership offered little support and that Mosby was rarely present in the office.

“When you’re struggling for morale, seeing stuff like your boss saying she was in Florida for 70 days doesn’t make you feel well — especially when you don’t see her very often,” said one former employee, referencing a letter Mosby wrote to a mortgage lender in 2020 to secure a lower interest rate, saying she had spent the past two months living in Florida.

The letter was included as part of a federal criminal indictment charging Mosby with the felonies of perjury and mortgage fraud related to her purchase of two Florida vacation homes. Her trial is scheduled for September.

While many current and former employees agree with most of Mosby’s progressive policies, they expressed frustration over how they were implemented. Nearly everyone interviewed said they found out about policies from the news media rather than their supervisors.

“When it was announced that the office would no longer be prosecuting marijuana possession alone, that was an announcement that did not find its way to our District Court supervisors, so it did not find its way to the District Court [prosecutors] who had cases in court that day,” one former prosecutor said.

*

Geez… absent boss who’s overloading you to the point of major burnout, communicating with the press but not with you… yeah I can see how that would be demoralizing. And it explains why some lawyers left for lower-paying jobs in other jurisdictions, despite Mosby telling the City Council that low salaries are the reason for the attrition. But wait wait, what was that about a federal criminal indictment? 

Yes dear readers, I hate to break it to you if you somehow missed it up til this moment, but we have yet another top city official in the crosshairs of the feds. Not the Mayor for once! No, this time it’s SA Mosby – long-story short, she fraudulently got pandemic relief by claiming non-existent hardship in order to withdraw retirement funds tax-free, which she then used to buy a big ol’ eight-bedroom mansion in Florida next to Disney. She got $50k off the down payment and a lower interest rate by promising not to rent out the property… and then two weeks later she started renting out the property. Oh, and she also lied in order to get the house in the first place by saying she didn’t have any tax liabilities, when in fact there’s a federal tax lien on her house here in Baltimore. Oh, and she used campaign funds to pay her personal lawyers to defend her on all this stuff when that’s definitely illegal. 

For a good breakdown, I recommend the Baltimore Brew’s coverage of this web of lies specifically (https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2021/03/22/marilyn-mosby-said-in-mortgage-documents-shed-use-florida-property-as-second-home-then-she-made-it-a-rental/) and of the Mosbys generally (https://www.baltimorebrew.com/special-series/marilyn-and-nick-mosby). I’ve seen people get real heated about the Brew focusing on the Mosbys, like the Brew has some big vendetta and that’s the only thing it’s about but like… show me the lie then??? Show me one thing they got wrong in their reporting! And why shouldn’t a rag like the Brew, which focuses so much on the in’s-and-out’s of Baltimore City power politics, focus on the very public scandals of the power couple in two of the highest-ranking offices in our government? Especially when they’re embarrassing themselves so badly and completely and fucking us all over! That’s exactly the kind of stuff I want to know about, actually!

But none of that in itself would’ve been enough to draw me out of retirement if it weren’t for the lives that hang in the balance. If you’ve read my work here before, you probably know who I’m about to mention – Keith Davis, Jr., whose unjust persecution at Mosby’s hands over the years I’ve written about extensively (https://one-baltimore.org/category/keithdavisjr-2/). Long story short, the police shot Keith in a case of mistaken identity (it’s well-documented that he was NOT the man they were seeking) then framed him for an unrelated murder to cover up their crime (claimed he somehow killed a man with a gun he wasn’t connected to, that had never been fired, and that was last recorded as being owned by a pawn shop run by a former sheriff…….), and Mosby’s office either didn’t want more uprisings in the street (this was just two months after Freddie Gray was murdered) or just didn’t know/care about the fact that this was a paper-thin frame-job until they were already so dug in that it would be an embarrassment to back down. 

After two hung juries and two convictions overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct (like bringing in a fake fucking witness who they knew was fake), Keith is now facing down a fifth trial for the same murder. This is not normal. Normally, you try a case, it doesn’t work out, you let it go. That’s what Mosby did when pursuing the cops who killed Freddie Gray, after all. Yeah, that’s right, the thing she loves to hang her hat on, being the braaaave ~progressive prosecutor~ who dared to go after cops (because it was the only thing in that moment that was going to stop the unrest), turned out to be a farce. Take Officer Porter, who twice denied Gray’s pleas for a medic as he lay dying in the back of his police van, and was charged with manslaughter. When the jury couldn’t come to a verdict, Mosby initially scheduled a retrial but then dropped the charges against him and several other officers who hadn’t yet even been tried. 

Meanwhile, Keith? Oh, she and her staff had alllll the time in the world to go after him again. And again. And again and again. Maybe after a certain point it wasn’t just about embarrassment or a cover-up, maybe after a certain point it was malicious, whether towards Keith himself, or towards his wife and chief advocate Kelly Davis for calling out Mosby and the SAO about the case publicly and pointedly. Circuit Court Judge John Nugent certainly seems to think so – in statements just a couple of weeks ago, he acknowledged “antagonistic acts of the State’s Attorney’s Office against Mr. Davis” and said “The state’s attorney and her staff engaged in conduct establishing personal animosity toward Mr. Davis outside the bounds of legitimate prosecutorial conduct,” noting times she’d misrepresented the facts of the case to the press. He put a gag order on the case as a result… which Mosby promptly violated because courting the press is all she cares about, so she’s now not just going to federal court for tax fraud in September, she’s also going to local court in August for contempt (https://foxbaltimore.com/news/local/judge-mosby-committed-antagonistic-acts-but-wont-drop-case-against-keith-davis-jr). 

PHEW. I could go on about Mosby. How she ignored the cries of people harmed by the Gun Trace Task Force for years, even as her own staff urged her to do something. How she promised Tawanda Jones that she’d investigate her brother’s murder by the police once she got into office, only to pretend not to know her. She’s just seriously, seriously the worst. I won’t deny she’s done some good things, helped some people! But the graft and the flagrant disregard for justice and human lives is disqualifying, and I haven’t even gotten into it all. You’ll have to dig into the rest of that shit yourself if you care to, though, because I need to save some space for the other contenders in the race.

Which brings us to the second candidate you should under no circumstances vote for, Thiru Vignarajah. Thiru Vigna-frikkin-rajah. As I said in my column on the 2020 Mayor’s race (https://one-baltimore.org/2020/05/25/one-baltimore-42-elections-in-the-time-of-covid-19/), “I not just don’t trust him, I think he’s actively dangerous and he terrifies me.” Like Mosby, he led the years-long persecution of a very-likely-innocent man (Adnan Syed). Like Mosby, he’s a bad boss who’s been consistently accused of creating a hostile work environment (https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/investigations/bs-md-vignarajah-staff-20220706-v2jmd3bznfbshnf5onq2xiekdi-story.html), though in his case it goes beyond overwork and absence into straight-up abuse and harassment. Like Mosby, he thinks the law doesn’t apply to him (https://www.thesuiterfiles.com/post/thiru-on-greenmount). This guy shouldn’t be in charge of a popsicle stand, much less one of the most powerful offices in the city apparatus.

[Edited to add: I learned after writing this column about Ivan Bates’ stances in favor of re-criminalizing marijuana possession and sex work — my fault for not doing more research on him before posting this, because I absolutely would have called him out for those things at the time if I had. He says these are “not victimless crimes” but I think the crime is victimizing people via the system for simply using their own bodies as they see fit, whether to intake cannabinoids or to make some money. I plan to address this if he wins the primary, as it’s looking like he might do as of a day after the election with counting ongoing.]

Thank GAWD, there is in fact one good candidate in the race – contestant number three, Ivan Bates, who seems like a genuinely decent guy by all accounts. So what’s his deal? Bates went into the Army straight out of high school, came home and got a law degree, then became an Assistant State’s Attorney back in ‘96. But he didn’t feel comfortable prosecuting cases against a community he wasn’t really familiar with, so he dove in and became a basketball coach (https://www.wypr.org/wypr-news/2018-05-08/profile-ivan-bates-candidate-for-baltimore-city-states-attorney). By 2002, he started his own law firm, and since then has been both a prosecutor and a defense attorney. Notably, he defended people who’d been harmed by the Gun Trace Task Force well before the feds ruined their little racket, acting as a lonely voice of reason and actual justice in the lawlessness of “the law” in Baltimore. It was those experiences that led him to challenge Mosby, which he’s doing now for the second time.

Hopefully second time’s the charm! You know where your polling place is and all that good stuff, right (https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/VoterSearch)? You’ve got a plan for when and how you’re going to cast your ballot on Tuesday? Good! Then I’ll simply urge you to talk to your friends, neighbors, family, coworkers, Lyft driver, whoever you can about the State’s Attorney’s race. Vote Bates, because everyone else running is scum. I guess there’s also the gubernatorial primary… I like Tom Perez for his background in civil rights, but make your own call there. There’ll be plenty of time to obsess over that office in the lead up to November.

If you want to get involved in the fight to #FreeKeithDavisJr, volunteers are being actively sought and you can learn more at https://keithdavisjr.com/. I should also mention that this Monday, 7/18, will be the nine-year anniversary of the police murder of Tyrone West, and there will be a memorial at 7pm at the site of the slaying, at Kitmore Road & Kelway Road in northeast Baltimore. Please come by if you can to support the cause of #JusticeForTyroneWest because it’s been way too long coming. Worth noting too that Ivan Bates has committed to calling on the state to re-investigate Tyrone’s death if he’s elected as SA (due to recent rules changes, it looks like the SAO itself wouldn’t be the ones to do so). 

Cultural Event of the Week: Next Saturday, July 23 at 2pm, come on out to the Red Shed Village (a really cool spot worth the visit all on its own) for the July Giving Love Bash! Organized by the wonderful Raven Lane, the Bash is always a joyous occasion marked by food, music, good vibes, and all kinds of giveaways. I’m told the menu this month includes soups, vegan chili, salads, hummus, and fruit mandalas (had to look that one up). Representing on the giveaways will be the Samaritan Kitchen, the Standing Strong Mentoring Program, North Avenue Mission, So What Else, Joy Baltimore, Kindness Connected, We Keep Us Safe Collective, and Joys Free Store, among others. I’ll have my own little table. Volunteers are always welcome but so is absolutely anyone – no means-testing here, just a lotta healthy food and essential goods looking for people who could use them.

https://www.facebook.com/events/376317284461238

Green Event of the Week: This coming Thursday, July 21st at 7pm, the National Aquarium in Baltimore will host an event like it’s never held before – Voyages, an evening of art and science for adults that’ll be capped by local food and a dance party DJ’ed by Baltimore’s own Wendel Patrick. Renowned local musical artist Dominic Shodekeh Talifero has composed soundscapes throughout the building based on the bioacoustics of aquatic beings and conversations with science experts, which will be accompanied by visual projections. There’s a bunch of other rad local artists involved in various ways as well, it’s gonna be LIT (literally), I’m so excited!

https://aqua.org/visit/special-events/2022-07-21-voyages-chapter-1

A mailer I received, editorialized.
Recent images from Team Keith and the West Coalition.

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