Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein and his challenger in the Democratic primary, Marilyn Mosby, agree that targeting violent repeat offenders, or VROs, will take bad guys off the streets of Baltimore. But that’s about the only thing they agree on.
Bernstein says he has "been successful in prosecuting well over 100 repeat violent offenders," during his first term in office and managed "more than 500 additional felony—serious felony—convictions each year."
Mosby, who worked as an assistant state’s attorney for six years, left the prosecutor’s office feeling Bernstein’s priorities were off. She questions whether his focus really is on those offenders.
"He got $11 million during a structural deficit to move from the Mitchell Courthouse to the SunTrust Building," Mosby says.
Mosby says her top priority in office would be to meet with police and develop a comprehensive plan to target violent repeat offenders. She charges that the state’s attorney’s office does not have a good working relationship with city police; pointing to a police consultant’s report released last fall.
"The police department is saying that the state’s attorney’s office is responsible for maintaining the violent repeat offender list, but the state’s attorney’s office is indicating that the police department is responsible for maintaining that list,” she says. “Clearly, there’s a problem."
Bernstein, who had been in private practice before running for office in 2010, dismisses Mosby's claim. He says he has worked hard to build a strong relationship with Police Commissioner Anthony Batts. He says people "would really be pleased that they saw the email exchanges and the phone calls that go back and forth on the weekends or at night when crimes are committed as we collect information, as we try to assist where we can."
Since leaving the prosecutor’s office in 2011, Mosby has been working in the Special Investigation Unit of Liberty Mutual Insurance, defending the company against allegedly fraudulent claims.
If elected, she’s promises to build better relations with the community and with crime victims. She says Bernstein’s dismantling of the community liaison program in 2011 disrupted relations with the community.
"There were over 11 community liaisons who not only attended the community association meetings but were also integral to dealing with victims and witnesses and assisting people in writing witness statements in court," Mosby says.
In addition, she points to two cases in the last year as examples of disrupted community relations: Tyrone West, who died while in police custody last summer and Matthew Hersel, who was killed last May after Johnny Johnson – a repeat offender being chased by police – lost control of a car and ran him down at City Hall.
Mosby says it was months before either family heard from Bernstein.
"That is unacceptable," she says. "That is the sort of thing that exacerbates distrust of the criminal justice system."
Bernstein says he has made the treatment of victims and their families “an absolute priority." He says he contacted the Hersl family as soon as he heard about their concerns and that he was personally involved in overseeing the West case and talking to his family.
Bernstein defends replacing liaisons with community prosecutors who are assigned cases based on geographic areas of the city; saying that has produced positive results.
"By transitioning to the community prosecution model, every prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Office is a community prosecutor and represents me and the office," he says.
He also says the move to the SunTrust Building is safer for victims and witnesses, who risked coming face to face with suspects if Bernstein’s offices remained in the Mitchell Courthouse.
The winner of the Democratic primary on June 24th will face Russell Neverdon, an independent, in November. There are no Republicans running for Baltimore City State’s Attorney.