Freddie Gray death: cries of 'justice' in Baltimore after six officers charged

State’s attorney Marilyn Mosby announces criminal charges including murder and says Gray’s arrest by Baltimore police was illegal: ‘No crime had been committed’

A criminal prosecution for murder will be brought over the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, the city’s top prosecutor announced on Friday morning.

The announcement came after nearly two weeks of growing anger over Gray’s death, and only hours after state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby received the results of a police investigation.

“Mr Gray’s death was a homicide,” Mosby declared. His arrest was illegal, and his treatment in custody amounted to murder and manslaughter, she said.

Mosby said Gray sustained fatal neck injuries because he was handcuffed and shackled in the back of a police van without a seatbelt after his arrest on 12 April.

“To the people of Baltimore: I heard your call for ‘no justice no peace’,” Mosby said at a Baltimore press conference. Praising young people who had taken to the streets to protest over Gray’s death, she said: “I will seek justice on your behalf.

“This is a moment. This is your moment,” said Mosby. “Let’s ensure that we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause. And as young people, our time is now.”

Whoops of joy and cries of “justice” were heard from bystanders as Mosby, a 35-year-old African American woman who has been in the job for less than six months, spoke. At an intersection in west Baltimore that has become the base for demonstrations, cars honked their horns and drivers pumped their fists in the air.

Officer Caesar Goodson – the driver of the police van – was charged with second-degree murder, while charges including manslaughter, assault, and misconduct in public office were brought against five other officers. Goodson, who has refused to cooperate with investigators, faces up to 30 years in prison.

Officer William Porter and Sergeant Alicia D White were charged with manslaughter, assault and misconduct.

Lieutenant Brian Rice, Officer Garrett Miller and Officer Edward Nero were charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct and false imprisonment.

All six officers involved were charged, by Friday afternoon all six were in custody.

“No one is above the law,” Mosby said.

Gray, 25, was arrested after catching the eye of a senior officer and running away. He was placed in the back of a police transportation wagon and was not placed in a seatbelt, as is required under Baltimore police regulations.

Past prisoners have suffered serious injuries during so-called “rough rides” in Baltimore vehicles.

Photographs of six Baltimore police officers charged in relation to Freddie Gray’s death (L-R: top row: Alicia D White, Brian Rice, William Porter; bottom row: Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, Caesar Goodson).
Photographs of six Baltimore police officers charged in relation to Freddie Gray’s death (L-R: top row: Alicia D White, Brian Rice, William Porter; bottom row: Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, Caesar Goodson). Photograph: Baltimore police department

Mosby said Gray sustained a fatal neck injury while he was handcuffed and shackled inside a police van without a seatbelt.

She said Gray’s arrest was illegal, since the knife in his pocket was not a switchblade and so was legal under Maryland law. In any case, the knife was not discovered until after he was arrested, Mosby said.

The announcement marked an extraordinary turn in the case, which has led to civil unrest in the city and reinvigorated discussions around poverty, discrimination and injustice suffered by African Americans across the United States.

Protests over Gray’s death turned to rioting on Monday, as young people – many of whom accuse Baltimore police of systematic brutality and mistreatment – clashed with officers. Shops were looted and buildings were burned. More than 200 people were arrested.

Protesters have been calling for all six officers involved in the arrest to be charged since Gray’s death on 19 April.

“This is a turning point in the world. This is a turning point in America,” shouted Jay Morrison of the YMC community coalition, part of the small group of Baltimore residents who assembled to hear Mosby’s announcement.

Mosby said she came from five generations of police officers, and that the charges against these six officers should in no way damage the relationship between police and prosecutors in Baltimore.

Her announcement came as the city braced for two move waves of protests on Friday and Saturday.

Barack Obama said it was “absolutely vital” the truth about what happened to Gray came out.

“It is my practice not to comment on the legal processes involved,” the US president said at a press conference. “That would not be appropriate. But I can tell you that justice needs to be served. All the evidence needs to be presented. Those individuals who are charged obviously are also entitled to due process and rule of law.

“So I want to make sure that our legal system runs the way it should. The justice department and our new attorney general [Loretta Lynch] is in communications with Baltimore officials to make sure that any assistance we can provide on the investigation is provided.”

Freddie Gray headshot
Freddie Gray. Photograph: Murphy, Falcon & Murphy

He added: “What I think the people of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth. That’s what people around the country expect.”

In a brief statement, Rawlings-Blake, the mayor, said: “There will be justice for Mr Gray, there will be justice for his family, and there will be justice for the people of Baltimore,” she said in a brief statement.

Rawlings-Blake said she was “sickened and heartbroken” by details of the charges against the officers.

“No one in our city is above the law,” she said. “Justice must apply to all of us equally.”

The mayor said most police officers served with “honour and distinction”, but said: “To those of you who wish to engage in brutality, misconduct, racism and corruption, let me clear: there is no place in the Baltimore city police department for you.”

The decision to charge all six officers caught many by surprise. Baltimore City police had only handed the findings of their own investigation into Gray’s death to Mosby’s office on Thursday.

Flanked by members of her own investigative team, Mosby said she decided to press charges after “independently verifying” all facts provided by the police department, and stated: “From day one, I also sent my own investigators to the scene.

“What we received from the police department yesterday we already had,” said Mosby.

Before her press conference, the Baltimore police officers’ union asked her to appoint a special independent prosecutor for the investigation into Gray’s death.

An Open Letter to State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby 5/1/2015

— Baltimore City FOP (@FOP3) May 1, 2015

“All death is tragic. And death associated with interaction with police is both shocking and frightening to the public,” Gene Ryan wrote.

“As tragic as this situation is, none of the officers involved are responsible for the death of Mr Gray. To the contrary, at all times, each of the officers diligently balanced the obligations to protect Mr Gray and discharged their duties to protect the public.”

Despite claiming full faith in Mosby’s professional integrity, Ryan cited “very deep concerns about the many conflicts of interest presented by your office conducting an investigation in this case”.

Ryan specifically called into question Mosby’s personal and professional relationship with the Gray family attorney William Murphy.

Murphy was among Mosby’s biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, $4,000, in June. He was also on Mosby’s transition team after the election.

But after announcing the charges on Friday, Mosby said she would not turn the case over to a special prosecutor.

For those outside the steps of the War Memorial Building, where Mosby held her press conference on Friday morning, the decision to prosecute was seen as nothing other than a move for justice and a potential turning point for the city recovering from widespread rioting and looting in the wake of Gray’s death.

Additional reporting by Sabrina Siddiqui and Dan Roberts in Washington


Oliver Laughland and Raya Jalabi in Baltimore and Jon Swaine in New York

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