Charles Curlett Jr., Dawnell Taylor, Freddie Gray, Janice Bledsoe, Lisa Phelps, Marilyn Mosbey, Michael Schatzow, Sarah David
The knife carried by Freddie Gray was, initially, one of the hooks upon which Marilyn Mosby and her two mini-me scowlers, Janice Bledsoe and Michael Schatzow, hung their hopes for convicting six Baltimore PD officers in the death of Freddie Gray. At first, they loudly claimed the knife was not illegal, hoping to render the arrest of Gray illegitimate. When it was pointed out Gray was charged under the Baltimore City ordinance rather than a related state law, which plainly made the knife illegal, they continued to make the same claims, later altered to claims that the knife had a spring, but really wasn’t spring assisted–you know, not a “spring” spring–and eventually dropped all mention of the knife. They did not pursue it in any of the trials. But bad lies die hard, particularly in the service of social justice, as The Baltimore Sun reports:
A knife expert who prosecutors were prepared to call in the Freddie Gray case said Baltimore’s law on switchblades is too vague, creating problems for people who carry certain types of knives as well as police officers trying to enforce the law.
This is quite true, however, it has not stopped Mosby’s office from prosecuting people under the same law prior to Freddie Gray’s death, during the trials, and thereafter. One may reasonably argue, on Second Amendment grounds, that such laws are unconstitutional, but the Prosecutor’s reliance on the law, and their attempt to ignore it when convenient, are the current issue, and the law remains in effect.
It might also be worthwhile to understand the way most police officers understand such laws. In most of the country—big cities are often different—officers ignore such laws for law-abiding citizens, but enforce them where criminals are concerned. The law—any law–should be equally applied, however, it is a reasonable exercise of police discretion—and scarce police resources—to focus on criminals rather than the law-abiding who carry pocketknives as daily tools. The proper argument is why legislative bodies pass unconstitutional laws, or laws rational officers hesitate to enforce.
The Sun recently obtained video that shows for the first time how the knife operated. The video was filmed by Baltimore Police Det. Dawnyell Taylor in July 2015, and shows her pressing a flipper above the handle, causing the blade to open. She notes tension that causes the knife to pop back open if not fully shut.
‘That’s what you call spring-assisted,’ she says to the camera.
This video is the first image of any kind of Gray’s knife I’ve been able to find. I apologize I wasn’t able to find a photo of the knife full-length. Take the link, and you’ll notice that pressing the release causes the blade to spring mostly open. Such knives are designed to open fully, their blades locking in place, with a mere flick of the wrist to continue the momentum imparted by the spring. While the Baltimore ordinance refers specifically to “switch-blade knives,” the language of the ordinance clearly covers knives like Gray’s.
Notice too, this is not a custom, expensive knife for the knife fancier, but the kind of thing one might imagine a low level drug dealer and user like Freddie Gray carrying.
Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow remains steadfast in defending his abusive and unwarranted prosecutions:
… Schatzow said Monday that the knife was ‘simply an excuse’ for officers to arrest Gray. He maintained that Gray’s knife doesn’t fit under the city law, which he says is clear.
‘The statute is talking about a switchblade knife, and this is not a switchblade knife,’ he said.
This might be a reasonable argument if his office did not prosecute people under the same ordinance for the same kinds of knives, before and after the Gray case. BPD officers, therefore, had, and have, every reason to believe such knives illegal under Baltimore city ordinance.
Police spokesman T.J. Smith on Monday that ‘the arrest was deemed legal and the weapon was deemed illegal’ and police have not changed their training on the issue.
Defense attorneys say the knife met the city definition of banned knives, but add that the debate itself proves the officers committed no crime when they arrested Gray. They say countless people continue to be arrested and prosecuted for carrying such knives.
‘The question is, on its face, did my client have probable cause to arrest [Gray], and if it’s that complicated to determine if it’s legal or illegal, that satisfies the question,’ said Catherine Flynn, one of the attorneys for Officer Garrett Miller, who found the knife clipped to Gray’s pants and filed charges with a District Court commissioner.
This is an important point. If a police officer, acting in good faith, reasonably believes he has probable cause a crime has been committed, he may make an arrest. Even if it later turns out he made a mistake, his arrest was not a crime, and the remedy is dismissal of the charge. This is equally important in this case:
Miller, her client, ‘made two-dozen arrests for spring-assisted knives [before Gray], and at no point did a prosecutor say to him, ‘This isn’t a valid charge,’ Flynn said. ‘The state’s attorney’s office prosecutes these people.’
‘But Schatzow says Gray’s knife has to be opened or closed by a hand movement and doesn’t have an ‘automatic spring’ as the ordinance requires. Schatzow read the patent for the weapon, and said it doesn’t have a spring at all, but a device that acts as one.
Prosecutors have noted that a similar type knife is sold to police officers at The Cop Shop, a supply store near police headquarters. And they said one of the officers charged in Gray’s death was in possession of the same type of knife ‘on the very day Mr. Gray was arrested,’ though they declined to say who.
‘We did quite a bit of research about this, and I’m confident that what some people refer to as a spring, this knife does not have that,’ Schatzow said.
Of course it has a spring, or “a device that acts as one,” as the video made by Det. Taylor clearly demonstrates. The mere fact that Schatzow’s office continues to prosecute people for carrying precisely the same kind of knife renders Schatzow’s argument as dishonest as was his prosecution of the officers.
It must also be understood the police officers are not going to arrest other police officers for violation of laws like this. Wrong? That depends on one’s perspective. It’s illegal for police officers to drive without lights on at night too in most states, but if they don’t, they’re not going to catch sneaky people. What’s best for public safety, absolute fidelity to minor laws, or catching major bad guys?
Schatzow thinks the city law is perfectly clear.
‘To me as a lawyer, the statute is clear,’ he said. ‘Would it be helpful if that the statutes were written in a way clear to laypeople? Yes.
Until such changes are made in the law, perhaps Mr. Schatzow could use a bit of discretion and stop prosecuting people for violations of this particular law? But then, ethically seeking justice seems to be beyond the imagination of that particular prosecutor’s office.
As I noted in Update 42, the civil case against Marilyn Mosby continues, as The Baltimore Sun reports:
A federal judge is allowing key parts of a lawsuit against Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, brought by five of the six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, to move forward.
U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis ruled that claims including malicious prosecution, defamation, and invasion of privacy can move forward against Mosby and Assistant Sheriff Samuel Cogen, who wrote the statement of probable cause.
Mosby’s attorneys had said she has absolute prosecutorial immunity from actions taken as a state’s attorney. But Garbis noted that her office has said it conducted an independent investigation.
‘Plaintiffs’ malicious prosecution claims relate to her actions when functioning as an investigator and not as a prosecutor,’ Garbis wrote.
Other counts, such as false arrest, false imprisonment and abuse of process, were dismissed, as Garbis had signaled he would do at an October hearing. All claims against the state were also dismissed.
That the case is allowed to proceed at all is a major victory for the officers. Judge Garbis is correct in his interpretation. By ignoring the BPD and claiming to have conducted her own “investigation,” she removed her immunity claim. This is richly ironic because the most likely explanation is Mosby made up her “investigation” as cover for ignoring the BPD. Her mind was made up almost immediately and didn’t–couldn’t–take into account the facts. This is obvious in that she caused Major Cogen to copy a probable cause statement devoid of probable cause, and began her prosecution long before any investigation could have been complete. Cogen also put the lie to Mosby’s claim the Sheriff’s office cooperated in her “investigation,” by admitting none of his deputies were involved, nor was he.
The Maryland attorney general’s office, which is representing Mosby, declined to comment on the 65-page ruling, saying officials needed time to review it
David Ellin, an attorney representing Lt. Brian Rice, said that barring a reversal on appeal, the ruling means the officers’ attorneys will begin the discovery stage, which includes deposing Mosby and others involved in 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.
Oh, indeed it will, and also provide a great many opportunities for Mosby, Cogen, Schatzow, Bledsoe and others to commit serial perjury.
At this early stage in the proceedings, Garbis noted that he must view the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. He said the plaintiffs’ allegations provided enough support for the lawsuit to move to the next stage.
‘Viewed in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, they present allegations that present a plausible claim that the defendants made false statements or omissions either knowingly or with reckless disregard of their truth or falsity,’ Garbis wrote.
Garbis said he was ‘not definitively deciding’ that Mosby and Cogen would not still enjoy 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.
These are entirely reasonable conclusions. Should the case go to trial, Mosby and her sycophants are in real trouble. And that’s not the only trouble dogging Mosby, as The Baltimore Sun reports:
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office lost both its chief of administration and chief spokesperson Wednesday [01-04-17] [skip].
On Wednesday night, spokeswoman Rochelle Ritchie e-mailed members of the media saying she had resigned.
The former WJZ-TV reporter later posted a statement on Twitter that read: ‘I am thrilled to start a new chapter in my life where my 12 years of media experience will be appreciated and where I will be under respectable and seasoned leadership.
Ouch! That had to leave a mark.
The circumstances of the departure of Steward Beckham, the chief of administration, were not clear. The office did not respond to questions about Beckham.
Beckham oversaw the office’s personnel management and had previously worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). He could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.
Both Ritchie and Beckham have been with the State’s Attorney’s Office since Mosby’s administration took over in 2015. Beckham’s annual salary was $127,500; Ritchie’s salary was $103,000.
Hmm. So not low-level, poorly paid easily replaced staff then…
Their departures follow the recent exit of another top member of Mosby’s team. Tammy Brown, who was chief of external affairs and Ritchie’s boss, left last month.
The office has also dealt with dozens of courtroom prosecutors leaving over the past two years.
As I’ve previously noted, the sheer number of prosecutors fleeing Mosby is highly unusual. It’s normal to experience some turnover when a new political boss takes over, but not in the numbers departing Mosby’s sinking ship. Those numbers included the two prosecutors assigned to prosecute several of the original officers in the Freddie Gray case after the complete failure of Bledsoe and Shatzow. Apparently, they had the temerity to suggest prosecutors obey the law and drop the charges. Not on Marilyn Mosby’s watch. Social justice, now and forever!
This is, in keeping with Mosby standard operating procedure, bizarre:
In a tweet posted Wednesday night that has since been deleted, Mosby posted a horoscope that read, ‘An Aquarius usually has no patience for people with tiny minds.
The question to which the previous sentence is the answer is: “Has Marilyn Mosby learned anything from her Freddie Gray failures?” But of course, only tiny-minded people would ask such questions.
The Baltimore Sun reports on Mosby’s potential future:
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby has her first challenger, should she seek reelection next year.
Attorney Charles N. ‘Chad’ Curlett Jr., a former New York prosecutor, told The Baltimore Sun that he will run for top prosecutor in the Democratic primary next June. He filed preliminary campaign paperwork in the fall, and again last week.
‘I think Baltimore needs new leadership in the state’s attorney’s office,’ Curlett said. ‘I think the voters will agree, and I think I can make Baltimore safer and can improve the office.
I think Curlett is right. The next election will be in 2018.
I won’t sugarcoat it; Baltimore is in a state of crisis,’ Curlett said Monday in an email. “In recent years, Baltimore has seen an unprecedented increase in crime in its streets. The murder rate has escalated. Violent criminals do not fear prosecution because conviction rates have fallen and the revolving door of the criminal justice system too often returns them to the streets far too soon.
‘My plan is a progressive, smart-on-crime approach that focuses on prosecuting violent criminals, early intervention in the lives of young people to prevent future crime, and reducing recidivism among non-violent offenders who will inevitably return to our communities. I will work closely with the Baltimore Police Department to restore the trust of the police in the state’s attorney, so our citizens can place their trust and confidence in our local police.
Curlett could “work closely with the Baltimore Police Department” by swearing not to arrest and prosecute officers for doing their jobs, and following up on that promise. If the Trump DOJ ends or tempers the Obama DOJ’s consent decree, it might even be possible for officers to enforce the law again.
As always, more as it develops, gentle readers.
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In many places in the US the difference between a spring assist knife and a switch blade is that for spring assist you have to use some part of the blade to open the knife, in this knife the flipper tab, in others a thumb stud or hole in the blade. Once the blade is started the spring will help open it completely. There are also knives for which there is a detent stop, you need to use enough force to overcome the detent at which point the momentum will open the knife, no spring needed. A pure switch blade has the blade forced back against a spring, a touch of a button on the body of the knife unlatches the blade and the spring forces it open. These are normally referred to as automatic knives. For most of these knives no wrist action is needed. There are also gravity knives where a switch is used to unlock the knife but the blade is opened by wrist action and a free falling blade. Some knives with detents can be opened with just a wrist flick if the detent is weak, at which points things get real grey. Many manual knives, other than gravity types, can be opened just as fast as spring assist but it generally requires a lot of practice or a more expensive pivot in the knife. In terms of threats to others and public safety, blade length is probably the only key feature of a knife that counts, once a knife is open, and most modern knives can be opened very quickly, fixed vs folding vs auto vs spring assist etc. is meaningless.
The article is certainly correct that most knife laws are used to either hassle people the police are suspicious off or as add on charges for people arrested for other reasons. I have reviewed the various appellate decisions in VA in terms of knife laws and do not remember one case that did not have at its core a drug dealer caring a knife, the arguments being over whether the knife in question is a weapon. In the end the courts decided that if the judge thinks the knife is a weapon, or it falls under the other banned categories (gravity, switchblade, dirk, bowie, etc.), it is a weapon.
Mike McDaniel said:
Thanks for the great information. I wouldn’t necessarily say the police are hassling people they’re suspicious of. It was always my experience my fellow officers, finding a knife which, by blade length or other feature might be illegal under the law, would consider the circumstances before making an arrest. If it was carried by joe average citizen, they would tend to hand it back and say “have a nice day.” If carried by a criminal, that was a ticket for a jail ride. That’s a reasonable use of discretion.
Char Char Binks said:
Schatzow is simply lying when he says, “‘The statute is talking about a switchblade knife, and this is not a switchblade knife…”. The Baltimore city code says, “It shall be unlawful for any person to sell, carry, or possess ANY KNIFE WITH AN AUTOMATIC SPRING or other device for opening and/or closing the blade, commonly known as a switch-blade knife.”, my emphasis, of course. It doesn’t call an assisted-opening knife a switchblade; it says it’s COMMONLY KNOWN AS a switchblade knife (even though it is NOT a switchblade). At least one news agency called Gray’s blade an “assist knife”, leaving out “spring” — I suppose that means Freddie had the knife in order to assist people. Maybe he used it to rescue those in need during emergencies.
Mike McDaniel said:
Dear Char Char Binks:
Well sure! What small time drug dealer isn’t a humanitarian at heart?
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