6 Police Officers Suspended as Baltimore Officials Promise to Investigate Death of Freddie Gray

Protesters on Monday in Baltimore after the death of a man who had been tackled by the police. (PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Roth for The New York Times)
Protesters on Monday in Baltimore after the death of a man who had been tackled by the police. (PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Roth for The New York Times)

Six police officers have been suspended and officials said Monday that they were changing police procedures as they investigated the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was rushed to the hospital with a severed spinal cord after being chased and tackled by officers.

With the city on edge after days of protests that continued Monday evening, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts appeared at a news conference and appealed for continued calm. Mr. Batts said the Police Department would wrap up its inquiry on May 1, though investigators said they still do not understand precisely how — or when — Mr. Gray was injured.

“We have no evidence — physical, video or statements — of any use of force,” the deputy police commissioner, Jerry Rodriguez, said at the news conference. “He did suffer a very tragic injury to his spinal cord, which resulted in his death. What we don’t know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred.”

Mr. Gray died Sunday, a week after his arrest. Witnesses captured parts of his encounter with the police on a cellphone video, in which screams can be heard as officers drag him into a transport van. An autopsy showed no wounds, except for the severed spinal cord, and the videos do not show the police acting forcefully.

Mr. Batts, however, conceded that officers had been slow to recognize that Mr. Gray, who apparently had asthma, needed medical attention; before he was put in the van, he asked for his inhaler, which he did not have with him.

“We should have probably asked for paramedics” sooner, the commissioner said. He added that his department had already begun changing policies governing the transport of suspects, and the care of people who require medical attention while in police custody.

The officers involved were suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

The death of Mr. Gray came amid growing national outrage over police treatment of black men, and questions about why officers are so rarely prosecuted. In Michigan on Monday, a police officer in the Detroit suburb of Inkster was charged with mistreatment of a prisoner and assault, both felonies, in connection with a January traffic stop in which he hauled a man out of his car and repeatedly punched him in the head. Also on Monday, a Los Angeles police officer was charged with assault under the color of authority against a black man who had surrendered to the police and was lying on the ground.

Here in Maryland, where both Ms. Rawlings-Blake and Mr. Batts offered condolences to the Gray family, Mr. Batts said his department would refer its findings to the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, for possible prosecution. Ms. Mosby said in a statement that her office had “dedicated all its existing resources to independently investigate this matter to determine whether criminal charges will be brought.”

Police officers filed court documents on Monday saying Mr. Gray had been arrested “without force or incident.” The documents show that Mr. Gray had been carrying a switchblade, but Ms. Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to put to rest any rumors that this was the reason officers pursued Mr. Gray.

“We know that having a knife is not necessarily a crime,” the mayor said.

According to a detailed timeline presented Monday by the deputy commissioner, Mr. Rodriguez, a police lieutenant made eye contact with Mr. Gray shortly before 8:40 a.m. on April 12 in a neighborhood on the west side of the city known for drug dealing. When Mr. Gray ran away, three officers on bicycles pursued him; they caught him and restrained him on the ground.

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SOURCE: NY Times, Sheryl Stolberg

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