Lawyers for cops accused in Freddie Gray death speak out

Story highlights

  • Defense attorneys say they want a judge to declare their clients innocent as a matter of law
  • Attorneys for the officers say the prosecution of their clients was politically motivated
  • The officers wish to remain with the Baltimore Police Department

(CNN)"Killer cop." Two words. That is what Officer Edward Nero heard each day as he arrived at court to face charges related to the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray. His attorney Marc Zayon says it was scary for Nero, "people yelling at us, people yelling at him. It was concerning of course."

Attorneys for Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Garrett Miller say their clients still feel uncomfortable in the Baltimore community that they care so much about. But despite everything, they want to remain as police officers in Baltimore.
    The officers currently in the midst of an administrative police review are not speaking at this time, but attorneys for three of the six officers say their clients are grateful that all the criminal prosecutions have now concluded. Michael Belsky represents Officer Rice. He, along with Miller's attorney Catherine Flynn and Nero's attorney Marc Zayon, recently spoke to CNN.
    On July 27, Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams dismissed criminal charges for the three remaining officers waiting to be tried. Attorney Michael Belsky was in that courtroom. "The overall emotion the day that they dismissed all of the charges was an enormous relief. We'd spent a year and a half invested in this case, scouring through each document, each interview, investigating this, doing our own investigation, putting blood, sweat and tears into defending this case," he says. The attorneys knew that for the officers "a huge weight had been lifted off of their shoulders."
    These defense attorneys tell CNN that it wasn't just the court-imposed gag order that kept them silent. Michael Belsky says, "We were not going to try this case in the media. We were going to try this case ethically, professionally, by the facts and the evidence and the law, and that is what we did."
    That gag order was finally lifted last week when Judge Williams dismissed the charges that still remained for Officers Garrett Miller, Alicia White and William Porter.
    Catherine Flynn, Miller's attorney, said she had been given a heads up about her client's case. "I was contacted the day before and the prosecution indicated they were going to be resolving my case on the 27th," says Flynn. She confirmed Miller's case would be dismissed. But, she says attorneys for the other defendants waiting for trial had no idea of what was about to happen.
    William Porter, the first officer to stand trial last fall elected to be tried by a jury of his peers which resulted in a mistrial. His re-trial was set to take place this fall. Officer Caesar Goodson along with Officer Edward Nero and then Lt. Brian Rice chose a bench trial with Judge Barry Williams. He acquitted all three. Next up was to be Garrett Miller's trial.
    The day before his trial was to start, Miller was going to have a Kastigar hearing to discuss his previous testimony in two other officer's trials and his immunity. The state was faced with putting its own prosecutors on the stand.
    Marc Zayon, who was in the courtroom that day, believes the likelihood of putting her trial prosecutors on the stand motivated State Attorney Marilyn Mosby to drop the remaining cases on that particular day. "They'd (prosecutors) be subject to cross-examination," Zayon says "and they would be asked questions about the internal meetings that the office had and the discussions that they had."
    Belsky tells CNN that the dismissed charges and acquittals for the officers are just the first steps in this process. The lawyers want their clients to be determined by a court to be innocent as a matter of law not just that the evidence wasn't sufficient to convict.
    Mosby said in news conference after the dismissal of the remaining charges against the officers that she respects the process.
    "The judge has acquitted three of these officers," Mosby said. "In light of these consistent outcomes, the likelihood of the remaining defendant's decision to elect a bench trial with this very same judge is highly probable, and unfortunately so is the outcome."
    The attorneys say they all listened over a year ago when Mosby spoke after filling charges against the six officers.
    At that point, they said they realized that Mosby was not seeking justice, but kept their beliefs to themselves.
    Michael Belsky believes "these charges were brought because Baltimore City was in the midst of something they had never seen before. And somebody seized a political moment and an opportunity."
    In her 2015 news conference, Mosby stated that there was a lack of probable cause to arrest Gray because the knife found on him at the time was legal.
    Marc Zayon claims "we had heard about conversations in their office about the knife...Mosby's office was told the knife was illegal, she knew that but said the opposite."
    When contacted by CNN, the Baltimore State Attorney's office told us they have no response to this allegation by defense attorneys.
    The three attorneys say it was a constant battle for discovery from the beginning.
    They describe learning about a meeting Freddie Gray had with a detective just months before his death where the Baltimore detective noted Gray in obvious pain.
    "We never saw that report, and we found that report, ultimately, ourselves through the course of our own investigation," says Michael Belsky.
    The three attorneys CNN spoke to believe the $6.4 million settlement awarded to the family of Freddie Gray was put on the fast track. Zayon believes the figure should not have been finalized until the criminal trials concluded.
    CNN has reached out to Baltimore City for a response.
    Attorneys say they will leave it to the Attorney Grievance Committee to determine if sanctions are warranted or even disbarment for Mosby. Although that investigation is private, Flynn says she has it on good authority that the actual trial prosecutors -- Chief Deputy Attorney Michael Schatzow and Deputy Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe -- have also had a complaint filed against them with the committee.
    According to the State Bar, they cannot identify or discuss current complaints but did tell CNN a non-frivolous complaint results in an investigation which can then conclude with a petition filled with the Maryland Court of Appeals. That petition is forwarded on to the circuit court which can then result in a public trial to determine the appropriate sanction which can include disbarment.
    All of the Baltimore officers are back at work and back on the payroll but are still in the middle of an administrative review with the Montgomery County Police Department which can result in sanctions or even firing from the department. They do not know when the review will be concluded.
    At the end of July following the dismissal of the remaining cases, Mosby held her press conference at the Gray memorial saying she is not anti-police, repeating her fight against police brutality saying Gray was unreasonably taken into custody and never again shall police show "a blatant disregard for human life."
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    The attorneys for the Baltimore officers were listening.
    "I think those remarks are incredibly unprofessional and incredibly inappropriate," Belsky said. "The state never charged these cases as cases of police brutality."
    And as for one of the biggest questions of all -- how did Freddie Gray tragically die if not at the hands of these officers?
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    Defense attorneys for the three officers who spoke to CNN say Gray's death was a tragic accident that occurred near the end of the van ride "at a time and place where no police officer could have done anything to stop or change the outcome."
    Mosby, holding firm to her theory, disagrees with that conclusion saying in her press conference after the dismissal "we do not believe Freddie Gray killed himself."
    The elected State Attorney also says she is grateful for "showing the world the justice system from start to finish."
    Attorneys for the police officers say they are too.
    "It's a time in Baltimore and in this country where there should be healing. I mean the worst thing in the world is to continue to create this division between police and communities that they police," Marc Zayon says. "That's not good for Baltimore or the country."