Police detective: Misleading narrative presented to Freddie Gray grand jury
By Justin Fenton, June 25 2016
The lead Baltimore police detective in the Freddie Gray investigation said she reluctantly read to grand jurors a summary of evidence provided by prosecutors that she believed was misleading, according to police records reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. Hours later, the grand jurors issued criminal indictments against six police officers in the arrest and death of Gray.
Detective Dawnyell Taylor said in a daily log of case notes on the investigation that a prosecutor handed her a four-page, typed narrative at the courthouse just before she appeared before the grand jury. “As I read over the narrative it had several things that I found to be inconsistent with our investigation,” Taylor wrote, adding: “I thought the statements in the narrative were misquoted.”
But, she wrote, she was “conflicted” about challenging the state’s attorney on the narrative in the courtroom. “With great conflict I was sworn in and read the narrative provided,” she said in her notes. When the jurors asked questions, including whether Gray’s arrest was legal, Taylor wrote that prosecutors intervened before she could give an answer that would conflict with their assessment.
The claims in her account underscore a rift between prosecutors and police that began in the spring of last year, when the two agencies worked together on parallel tracks to investigate Gray’s death. Some police officials believe prosecutors moved too quickly and have questioned their findings, while prosecutors have raised questions about whether police were seeking to absolve the officers of wrongdoing. Prosecutors have accused Taylor in court of trying to sabotage their case.
Taylor’s case notes were provided to The Baltimore Sun anonymously, and Sun reporting verified their authenticity. Portions of the notes, which span a four-month period beginning with Gray’s death on April 19, 2015, were discussed in court during testimony at the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. Taylor’s account of the grand jury proceedings was not discussed.
The trial concluded Thursday with Judge Barry Williams acquitting Goodson on all counts, including second-degree murder. Goodson drove the transport van in which Gray suffered fatal spinal injuries.
State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby must now decide within days how to proceed with the trial of the next officer, scheduled to begin July 5. Mosby’s office declined to comment. Prosecutors, defense lawyers, witnesses and others involved in the case are under a gag order that prohibits them from publicly discussing it.
Taylor testified in the Goodson trial that she turned her notes over to defense lawyers, who objected that prosecutors didn’t provide them first. Prosecutors said in court that they didn’t have the notes. Taylor later testified that she offered to provide her notes but that prosecutors didn’t want them. Williams faulted prosecutors for not obtaining the notes and turning them over, as required under discovery.
During an exchange in court, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow accused Taylor of “sabotage” and said that he had sought to have her removed from the investigation last summer. In the final days of Goodson’s trial, Taylor sat in the courtroom — with the defense team.
The city’s police union took to social media the day after the Goodson verdict, posting a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio raising a glass and the text: “Here’s to the Baltimore 6 defense team, the FOP and Detective Taylor.” In another post with a photo of Mosby, the union wrote, “The Wolf That Lurks.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis responded Saturday with a statement: “Inappropriate, insensitive remarks or attacks that serve to detract from our necessary relationships with our community and criminal justice partners have no place in our City.” The Fraternal Order of Police posts have since been deleted.
Prosecutors worked with police investigators as well as the city sheriff’s office on the Gray case. But in a court filing this month, a top sheriff’s commander, who obtained the warrants for the police officers’ arrests, played down his office’s role. The commander said in an affidavit that he had “no involvement whatsoever” in the investigation by the state’s attorney’s office. He said prosecutors provided him a narrative that formed the basis for the charging documents.
Taylor’s case notes shed light on the grand jury process, which by law is secret. She said that Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe handed her a narrative on the afternoon she appeared before the grand jury. She thought she would have a chance to talk to Bledsoe before testifying, but that didn’t happen. Bledsoe could not be reached to comment.
Taylor wrote in her notes that she believed some portions of the narrative were misleading, likening the situation to telling grand jurors that investigators had shown a witness a photo lineup but not telling them that the witness failed to pick out a suspect. She didn’t specify what evidence she felt was misrepresented.
When members of the grand jury began to ask questions about the case, Taylor wrote, prosecutors intervened and answered from their perspective. “It was at this time that I realized that she did not intend for me to answer any questions because all of my answers would obviously conflict with what I had just read to them,” Taylor wrote. Taylor noted that she told the grand jury she was only reading the statement and that this was not her investigation.
A grand jury is made up of citizens who decide whether to indict someone suspected of a crime, and the burden of proof is lower than what’s needed to secure a conviction in court. In most cases, the state’s attorney’s office chooses an uninvolved officer to present the case to the grand jury by reading from charging documents prepared by police, according to former Baltimore homicide detective Joshua Ellsworth, who is not involved in the Gray case.
“I have never heard of the [state’s attorney’s office] providing an investigator with a prepared statement,” said Ellsworth, who is now an associate instructor at Indiana University’s department of criminal justice. In homicide cases, Ellsworth said, the process is far more intensive, with detectives and prosecutors working together to present their case. He said members of the grand jury would often pepper him with questions, with some skeptical of the case and others wondering why authorities weren’t seeking more charges.
“The grand jury is a great place to explain the totality of the facts you know, warts and all, and their questions will help you fill in what reasonable people will ask” when the case goes to trial, he said. Police and prosecutors may differ on their theory of the case, he said, but detectives are there to answer questions in an unbiased manner. He said it’s the responsibility of prosecutors to take those facts and “come to some sort of conclusion about whether to seek charges.”
Robert Bonsib, a former state and federal prosecutor who has extensive experience with grand juries, said there is “no standard answer” for how witnesses should be handled by prosecutors. He said prosecutors often meet with witnesses before they appear in grand jury proceedings to discuss how they plan to convey what they know and how to handle certain questions. But Bonsib, who is not involved in the Gray case, said prosecutors should tread carefully. “Clearly a prosecutor isn’t supposed to tell a witness what to say, in the sense of saying anything that isn’t true or accurate or a product of their own knowledge,” he said.
Taylor’s notes indicate that she had concerns about prosecutors early on. She complained that in meetings before charges were brought, “it was clear that [Bledsoe] did not need to listen to any of the evidence as she had made up her mind to charge these officers.”
The Sun, which was given exclusive access by the Police Department to observe its investigation last spring, reported that police believed unanswered questions remained in the case when they were caught off-guard by the prosecutors’ decision to charge.
The day after the Police Department turned over its preliminary investigative findings to prosecutors, Mosby announced the charges against the officers. The medical examiner had ruled Gray’s death a homicide, and prosecutors alleged that officers disregarded their duty to keep Gray safe by failing to secure him with a seat belt and seek prompt medical attention after he was injured.
Goodson faced the most serious charges. Prosecutors said he deliberately drove the van in a reckless manner, causing Gray’s injuries. [Pictures and video shown Eddie Gray already injured and immobile. NBP] Williams said he found no evidence of a so-called “rough ride.”
So far, Goodson and Officer Edward Nero have been acquitted after bench trials, while jurors deadlocked on charges against Officer William Porter. In a rebuke of the state’s case, Williams said Thursday that prosecutors were asking him to make assumptions and lacked evidence for their conclusions.
Taylor’s notes became an issue in Goodson’s trial because she wrote in them that the medical examiner had told police that Gray’s death was an accident — a claim that the medical examiner disputed on the stand. When Taylor took the stand, Schatzow questioned whether she wrote the notes only after her falling-out with prosecutors. He then asked her to confirm that she was removed from the Gray investigative team upon his request. She said that never happened. “You made the request, but you don’t have the authority to remove me.”
According to her case notes, Taylor ceased contact with the state’s attorney’s office in August. But she said on the stand that police commanders kept her on as the lead investigator in the case.