Alan Blinder & Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times, May 1, 2015
Baltimore’s chief prosecutor charged six police officers on Friday with a range of crimes including murder and manslaughter in the arrest and fatal injury of Freddie Gray, a striking and surprisingly swift turn in a case that has drawn national attention to police conduct.
The state’s attorney for Baltimore City, Marilyn J. Mosby, filed the charges almost as soon as she received a medical examiner’s report that ruled Mr. Gray’s death a homicide, and a day after the police concluded their initial investigation and handed over their findings. Officials had cautioned that it could take considerable time for her office to complete its own investigation and decide whether to prosecute.
In a city rocked by unrest this week, and now under curfew and patrolled by National Guard troops, Ms. Mosby’s announcement on the steps of the War Memorial downtown drew cheers from the assembled crowd while a nearby cordon of officers in riot gear looked on stonily. As word spread, people in parts of the city took to the streets in spontaneous celebration.
By nightfall a large demonstration wound its way through the streets and the scene became confrontational shortly after the curfew began with small disruptions in front of City Hall and at Pennsylvania Avenue and West North Avenue, where people blocked traffic and taunted the police. Some arrests were made and the crowds disbanded as the police and National Guard closed in.
The officers who were arrested, three white and three black, include a lieutenant with 17 years on the force, several near-rookies and a woman who had just been promoted to sergeant.
The most serious charges were brought against Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who was driving the van that carried Mr. Gray to a police station after his April 12 arrest. Along with involuntary manslaughter, Officer Goodson, 45, [black] was charged with “second-degree depraved heart murder,” which means indifference to human life.
The Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police called the speed of the prosecutor politically motivated. “The actions taken today by the state’s attorney are an egregious rush to judgment,” said Michael E. Davey, the union’s lawyer. “We believe that these officers will be vindicated, as they have done nothing wrong.”
Ms. Mosby faulted the police conduct at every turn. The officers who arrested him [all white] “failed to establish probable cause for Mr. Gray’s arrest, as no crime had been committed,” she said, describing the arrest as illegal. Officers accused him of possession of a switchblade, but Ms. Mosby said, “The knife was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law.”
Ms. Mosby said Mr. Gray suffered a spinal injury while being transported in a police van–and not earlier, while being arrested–and pointed to the failure of the police to put a seatbelt on him as a crucial factor.
Despite repeated stops to check on Mr. Gray, the van driver, Officer Goodson, and other officers never belted him in, she said, at times leaving him face-down on the van floor with his hands behind him. Though there has been speculation that the police intentionally gave Mr. Gray a “rough ride,” intended to slam him against the metal sides of the van, Ms. Mosby did not refer to that possibility. She charged only Officer Goodson [black] with second-degree murder, the most serious crime facing the six officers; he was also accused of manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office.
Lt. Brian Rice [white] was charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment. Officer William G. Porter [black] and Sgt. Alicia White [black] were charged with manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office. Officers Edward M. Nero [white] and Garrett E. Miller [white] were charged with assault, misconduct in office and false imprisonment.
Standing on a nearby street corner, Renee James, 48, said, “There’s no need to go tear up the city no more.”
But Abdullah Moaney, 53, an information technology worker from East Baltimore, said that “peace has lost its credibility.” Seeking to justify the violence that broke out Monday, he said that “if it wasn’t for the riot,” charges would not have been filed.
“This is a great day, and I think we need to realize that,” said Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland. “I think a message has been sent by our state’s attorney that she treasures every life, that she values every person.”
Elsewhere Friday, rallies celebrating May Day and calling attention to police killings of black men emerged in cities across the country, including Oakland, Calif., Seattle and Portland, Ore. In Manhattan, protesters marched from Union Square to Foley Square, some chanting, “Make them pay for Freddie Gray!”
Mr. Gray started the fateful ride on the floor of the police van, Ms. Mosby said. A short time later, Officer Goodson “proceeded to the back of the wagon in order to observe Mr. Gray,” she said.
“At no point did he seek, nor did he render, any medical help for Mr. Gray,” Ms. Mosby said.
A few blocks later, he called a dispatcher to say that he needed help checking on his prisoner. Another officer arrived, and the back of the van was opened. “Mr. Gray at that time requested help and indicated that he could not breathe,” and asked twice for a medic, Ms. Mosby said. While the officers helped him onto the bench in the back of the van, she said, they still did not belt him in.
While they were there, she said, a call went out for a van to pick up and transport another person who had been arrested. “Despite Mr. Gray’s obvious and recognized need for assistance, Officer Goodson, in a grossly negligent manner,” answered that call, rather than seeking medical help, Ms. Mosby said.
At the van’s next stop, Officer Goodson met the officers who made the initial arrest, and a sergeant who had arrived on the scene. Opening the van once again, they “observed Mr. Gray unresponsive on the floor of the wagon,” Ms. Mosby said.
The sergeant, she said, spoke to the back of Mr. Gray’s head, but he did not respond. “She made no effort to look, or assess, or determine his condition,” Ms. Mosby said.
When the van finally arrived at the Western District police station and officers tried to remove him, “Mr. Gray was no longer breathing at all,” she said. A medic was summoned and found Mr. Gray in cardiac arrest. Then he was rushed to a hospital.
A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer who handles police brutality cases in Baltimore–and worked to help elect Ms. Mosby–said her emphasis on the officers’ lack of probable cause in arresting Mr. Gray was significant. Rarely, he said, are police officers prosecuted for making false arrests–and too often, they do not worry about lacking probable cause.
He called the charges of false imprisonment “something new for police activity, which offends the constitutional rights of citizens.”