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Defamation Lawsuit Against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby Allowed to Move Forward

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Photo by the Associated Press.

A federal district judge ruled on Friday, Jan. 6, that key parts of a defamation and malicious prosecution lawsuit filed against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby can go forward.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled that the suit, brought by five of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, can move forward against Mosby and Assistant Sheriff Samuel Cogen, the Baltimore Sun reported. The complaint also accuses the state’s attorney of invasion of privacy.

Lawyers for Mosby have contended that she has prosecutorial immunity from her actions as Baltimore State’s Attorney, but Judge Garbis pointed out that Mosby’s office had conducted an independent investigation into Gray’s death.

“Plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claims relate to her actions when functioning as an investigator and not as a prosecutor,” Garbis wrote in his decision.

Twenty-five-year-old Gray died as a result of severe spinal cord injuries he sustained during a “rough ride” in the back of a police van in April 2015. Officers failed to secure the Baltimore man, who was handcuffed, with a seat belt as he was transported to jail.

A week later, Mosby filed criminal charges against the six officers involved in his death: Officer William Porter, Officer Garret Miller, Sgt. Alicia White, Officer Caesar Goodson, Officer Edward Nero and Lt. Brian Rice. The charges stated that the arresting officers had no reason to detain Gray in the first place, while the others failed to strap Gray in with a seat belt and provide him medical attention for his injuries.

Medical examiners ruled the Baltimore man’s death a homicide, but Mosby’s prosecutors still failed to get convictions against any of the officers charged. Two were found not guilty on all charges by a judge, one was acquitted as the result of a hung jury and prosecutors moved to dismiss charges against the remaining three. 

Miller, Nero, Porter, White and Rice have since sued Mosby and Cogen in federal court, arguing that the duo knowingly pursued false charges against them. Goodson, who was driving the police van that night and faced the most severe charges in Gray’s death, did not join the lawsuit.

The officers “were falsely charged as a direct result of an improperly motivated investigation, false charges and false statement made by Defendants Mosby and Cogen and improper legal advice provided to Defendant Cogen and the Office of State’s Attorney for Baltimore City,” their complaint read.

The six plaintiffs are seeking both punitive and compensatory damages.

As the case is still early in its proceedings, Garbis acknowledged the need to review claims made in the lawsuit in a light that was favorable to the plaintiffs, adding that the officers’ accusations provided sufficient evidence for the case to move forward, according to the Baltimore Sun. However, the judge noted that he was “not definitively deciding” that Mosby and Cogen would not be provided immunity.

“Rather the court is determining that the existence of this affirmative defense is not clear on the face of the complaint and a firm conclusion on the reasonableness of the probable-cause determination requires greater factual development,” he wrote.

Baltimore’s WBAL-TV reported that a conference would be scheduled for future proceedings in the case.

David Ellin, an attorney representing Rice, said Garbis’ ruling Friday was the green light for officers’ lawyers to begin the discovery stage, which includes deposing Mosby and other individuals tied to the investigation.

“We’re looking forward to the depositions and learning about what really happened,” Ellin said. “We think the discovery process will really allow us to flesh out many things. The ramifications of this case are huge, and nationwide.”

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