Baltimore’s top prosecutor announced criminal charges Friday against all six officers suspended after a man suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody, saying “no one is above the law.”
“Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide,” State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby declared. His arrest was illegal and his treatment in custody amounted to murder and manslaughter, she said.
The announcement prompted whoops, hollers and shouts of “Justice!” on the courthouse steps and in the streets of Baltimore, which has faced nearly two weeks of growing anger over Freddie Gray’s death.
Mosby made her decision public only hours after receiving the results of the internal police investigation and an official autopsy report. As she spoke, the city was bracing for huge crowds in two more waves of protests Friday and Saturday.
“Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon,” she said.
The stiffest charge — second-degree “depraved heart” murder — was filed against driver of the police van. The other five were charged with crimes including manslaughter, assault, false imprisonment and misconduct in office.
Fraternal Order of Police local president Gene Ryan told Mosby in a letter before the charges were announced Friday that none of the six suspended officers were responsible for Gray’s death.
But Mosby said Gray was illegally arrested, assaulted, falsely accused of carrying an illegal weapon, and then hoisted, handcuffed, into the metal compartment of a police van without the seatbelt that all officers are told they must put on for safety of both detainees and officers.
The officers later failed to get medical help even though Gray requested it repeatedly, she said. At some point along the way, he suffered a mysterious spinal injury and died a week later.
Mosby said the illegal switchblade — which Officer Garrett E. Miller swore in a court record under penalty of perjury that he found clipped inside Gray’s pants pocket after he was detained — was in fact a legal knife, and provided no justification for Gray’s arrest.
She said Gray was assaulted by Miller, Officer William G. Porter, Officer Edward M. Nero, Lt. Brian W. Rice and Sgt. Alicia D. White. Each faces up to 10 years if convicted of second-degree assault.
The van driver, Officer Caeser R. Goodson, Jr., faces up to 30 years on the murder charge, and 10 years each for involuntary manslaughter, assault and “manslaughter by vehicle.” All of the officers also face a charge of misconduct in office.
A warrant was issued for their arrest, but Mosby said she was not sure if they were already in custody.
Mosby said she comes from five generations of police officers, that she respects and honours how police serve the people, and that this case should in no way damage the relationship between police and prosecutors in Baltimore.
She swiftly rejected a request from the Baltimore police officers union asking her to appoint a special independent prosecutor because of her ties to attorney Billy Murphy, who is representing Gray’s family. Murphy was among Mosby’s biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, $4,000, in June. Murphy also served on Mosby’s transition team after the election.
The state medical examiner’s office said it sent Gray’s autopsy report to prosecutors Friday morning. Spokesman Bruce Goldfarb says the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner will not release the report publicly while the case is under investigation.
In front of a fire station where Gov. Larry Hogan was scheduled to visit Friday, a man leaning out of a passing truck window pumped both arms in the air and yelled, “Justice! Justice! Justice!”
At the corner of North and Pennsylvania avenues, where the worst of the rioting took place on Monday, drivers honked their horns. When buses stopped in front of the subway station, people spilled out cheering as the doors opened.
There was no large gathering at the intersection immediately after the announcement, though: Nearly 100 police in riot gear were deployed, and for the moment, they had nothing to do.
Ciara Ford of Baltimore expressed surprise at the decision to prosecute.
“I’m ecstatic,” she said. “I hope this can restore some peace.”
“It makes you cry,” said her friend, Stephanie Owens of Columbia.
They both expressed hopes that the officers would be convicted. And both believed that the protests in the city made a difference in ensuring that authorities took the case seriously.
“If we had kept quiet, I don’t think they would have prosecuted,” Ford said.
Community activist Ted Sutton surveyed the joyous scene with amazement. “You don’t see people chanting. What you see is people celebrating,” Sutton said.
The charges, and Mosby’s detailed explanation of what happened, are a first step toward transparency, he said.
“She took the time to critique the evidence,” Sutton said, noting that the officers faced different charges specific to their actual alleged misconduct. “To have each person charged with what they actually did, to have it come out this quick — this is something else.”
He shuddered to think what the intersection would have looked like if she had announced that no charges would be filed.
“We wouldn’t want to imagine what was going to happen right here,” he said.