Two of the six officers charged in Baltimore, Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller, are alleged to have committed the crime of false imprisonment against Freddie Gray. The prosecutor’s theory is that Gray’s arrest was unlawful because the knife that police seized from Gray’s pants pocket is allegedly legal under Maryland law. In charging documents, prosecutors allege, “The knife was not a switchblade knife.” Rather, the knife was allegedly one that folded into the handle, and thus, perfectly legal to possess.
The defendants argue that, contrary to what prosecutors maintain, there is no false arrest here because the knife was illegal to conceal. Nero’s attorney has requested to inspect the weapon. He wants to show that while not a switchblade, the pocket knife does have spring action, which would make it unlawful under Baltimore law. If that’s correct, then there is no case here and the only one who arguably committed a false arrest would be prosecutor Marilyn Mosby.
I don’t believe this case should hinge on whether the knife was lawful or not. The issue for me was whether the officers intended to falsely arrest Freddie Gray. In other words, if prosecutors can show that the officers knew the knife was lawful and that Gray had committed no crime, yet chose to arrest him anyway, then there may be merit to the prosecutor’s case. However, that’s not what was alleged by the prosecutor at the press conference when the charges were first announced. I have no reason to believe the prosecutor chose not to reveal her best evidence when addressing the metaphorically mostly blood thirsty, pitchfork carrying crowd.
Let’s assume then that the officers made a mistake in good faith. Therefore, to me it appears that the officers were stripped of their liberty because they weren’t perfect. It appears that the prosecutor has zero tolerance for officers making mistakes. She must expect all officers to be familiar with the literally hundreds of different makes and models of pocket knives that are on the street and to be able to conclude definitively within a matter of minutes with 100% accuracy whether a pocket knife is lawful or not. So many pocket knives, so little time. There’s the Spyderco Delica, the Kershaw Ken Onion Blur, Buck 110 Folding Hunter, Victorinox Champion Plus and countless more. Dare you make a mistake. You will pay for it with your livelihood and your liberty.
Having practiced in the criminal arena for over two decades, I’ve seen more than a dozen cases where officers in good faith arrest someone erroneously believing a knife was unlawful. I suspect there’s countless other officers around the U.S. who make that same type of mistake every year. What has happened in every one of those cases is that the charges are eventually dropped by prosecutors who research the weapon to determine its legality. What always happens to the cop? Nothing. He certainly isn’t arrested for an honest and/or possibly negligent mistake. I’m outraged that these cops are being treated any differently than the numerous cops who have made the same honest mistake before or after them. Aristotle defined justice as, “Like cases being treated alike.” “Justice for Freddie Gray” sounds good. “Justice for all” sounds even better.