State prosecutors in two adjoining Maryland counties, Montgomery and Howard, will swap cases of police-involved deaths, a move intended to build public trust in the independence and fairness of the investigations, reports the Baltimore Sun. The partnership between the counties comes at a time when citizens “overwhelmingly” distrust the criminal justice system, said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy. The idea for the agreement preceded the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who suffered a severed spinal cord and other injuries while in Baltimore police custody in April. Gray’s death set off a week of protests that erupted into riots, prompting a curfew and deployment by the National Guard. State’s attorneys work regularly with police to investigate and prosecute crime, which leads to a perception that prosecutors favor officers, McCarthy said.
“There are a large number of individuals that feel that it’s not going to be looked at fairly,” McCarthy said. “We have an obligation toward changing that perception.” The counties each reported two police-involved deaths last year, McCarthy said. Montgomery County has about 1,200 officers on its police force; Howard has 500. In such cases, the other county would send a prosecutor to investigate, and all court proceedings, including any trial, would take place in the original jurisdiction. The idea is supported by findings of a task force appointed by President Obama, which recommended that police departments mandate external investigations into fatal use-of-force incidents and deaths of police prisoners. The 21st-Century Policing Task Force also recommended independent prosecutors review the cases.