US probes man’s death in Bal­ti­more po­lice cus­tody


The U. S. Jus­tice Depart­ment said Tues­day it has opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the death of a black man who died of spinal in­juries he suf­fered dur­ing an ar­rest that in­volved be­ing trans­ported in a po­lice van.

It’s not un­com­mon for fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors to look into al­le­ga­tions of ex­ces­sive po­lice force, though such cases are com­ing un­der in­creased scru­tiny amid a na­tional de­bate about the deaths of black men at the hands of po­lice. Jus­tice Depart­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions in the last year in­clude probes into the fa­tal shoot­ing of an un­armed black 18-year-old in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri — a case that re­sulted in no charges against the of­fi­cer — and an on­go­ing re­view of a po­lice choke­hold death of a New York City man.

Those deaths prompted an­gry street protests, as has the case in Bal­ti­more of Fred­die Gray, 25. He was taken into cus­tody April 12 af­ter po­lice “made eye con­tact” with him and an­other man in an area known for drug ac­tiv­ity and the two started run­ning, Bal­ti­more po­lice said. Gray was hand­cuffed and put in a trans­port van. At some point dur­ing his roughly 30-minute ride, the van was stopped and Gray’s legs were shack­led when an of­fi­cer felt he was be­com­ing “irate” in the back of the van, po­lice said.

He was rushed by am­bu­lance to a hos­pi­tal. Gray died Sun­day — a week af­ter his ar­rest — of what Deputy Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Jerry Ro­driguez de­scribed as “a sig­nif­i­cant spinal in­jury.” Ex­actly how he was in­jured and what hap­pened in the van is still not known.

Gray’s death, which comes, comes six months af­ter Bal­ti­more of­fi­cials re­leased a plan to re­duce po­lice bru­tal­ity and mis­con­duct.

U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman Dena Iver­son said fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors will look for ev­i­dence whether an of­fi­cer will­fully vi­o­lated a per­son’s civil rights by us­ing un­rea­son­able force.

There’s a high thresh­old for bring­ing fed­eral civil rights charges against po­lice of­fi­cers in such cases. Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors must show an of­fi­cer will­fully de­prived a per­son of his or her civil rights by us­ing more force than the law al­lows, a stan­dard that’s chal­leng­ing in rapidly un­fold­ing con­fronta­tions in which snap judg­ments are made.

About an hour af­ter the probe was an­nounced, at least 1,000 peo­ple peo­ple gath­ered a pre­vi­ously planned rally at the site of Gray’s ar­rest. The pro­test­ers marched to a po­lice sta­tion a cou­ple of blocks away, chant­ing and hold­ing signs that read “Black Lives Mat­ter” and “No Jus­tice, No Peace” — slo­gans that have come em­body what demon­stra­tors be­lieve is wide­spread mis­treat­ment of blacks by po­lice.

Some of the mounted of­fi­cers used phones to pho­to­graph the crowd, while some in the crowd used theirs to pho­to­graph po­lice.

Six Bal­ti­more po­lice of­fi­cers have been suspended with pay while lo­cal au­thor­i­ties look into the death. The of­fi­cers have been on the force any­where from three years to 18 years.

Ac­cord­ing to court doc­u­ments, Of­fi­cer Gar­rett Miller ac­cused Gray of car­ry­ing a switch­blade, which was dis­cov­ered in Gray’s pocket af­ter he was stopped.

The lawyer for Gray’s fam­ily said he be­lieves the po­lice had no rea­son to stop him.

“They’ve made con­ces­sions on lack of prob­a­ble cause,” at­tor­ney Billy Mur­phy said. “Run­ning while black is not prob­a­ble cause. Felony run­ning doesn’t ex­ist, and you can’t ar­rest some­one for look­ing you in the eye.”

The of­fi­cers’ spe­cific roles in the ar­rest were not re­leased by city of­fi­cials. By­stander video shows of­fi­cers on bi­cy­cles, in pa­trol cars and out­side the trans­port van.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner An­thony Batts said the rea­son for Gray’s stop is “a ques­tion we have to dig into.”

Gray’s death has prompted daily protests and a vigil was planned Tues­day evening at the spot where he was ar­rested.

Harold Perry, 73, a re­tired small busi­ness­man who is nearly blind, said he heard the ar­rest through his bed­room win­dow. A young man was scream­ing “You’re hurt­ing me! Get your knee off my back,” Perry said.

He said he also heard the young man say, “I’m an asth­matic.”

In the by­stander video, Gray is scream­ing, but it’s not clear what he is say­ing. Po­lice have also con­firmed he asked for an in­haler and med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

Capt. Eric Kowal­czyk, a depart­ment spokesman, said Batts met with all six of­fi­cers in­volved in Gray’s ar­rest on Mon­day. The Bal­ti­more Sun first re­ported the meet­ing.

At a news con­fer­ence Mon­day, of­fi­cials vowed trans­parency and pledged to hold those found re­spon­si­ble accountable. Batts said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will be com­pleted by May 1 and the re­sults will be sent to the state at­tor­ney’s of­fice to de­ter- mine whether crim­i­nal charges will be filed. Batts also said he is order­ing that po­lice re­view and re­write “ef­fec­tive im­me­di­ately” its poli­cies on mov­ing pris­on­ers and pro­vid­ing them with med­i­cal at­ten­tion.


Pro­test­ers sit out­side the Bal­ti­more Po­lice Depart­ment’s West­ern Dis­trict po­lice sta­tion at the end of a march for Fred­die Gray in Bal­ti­more on Tues­day, April 21.

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