In Freddie Gray's death, police say they're stumped

Police say they are baffled by Freddie Gray's death, "will work tirelessly to get to the facts."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said he doesn't know how Freddie Gray died, but that he will find out "and we will take corrective action wherever and whenever necessary."

Batts spoke at a press conference today in the huge second floor atrium at police headquarters. The room was needed to accommodate the dozens of reporters from news outlets across the country as stories of police violence causing the deaths of unarmed African-American men continue to stir protest, confusion, and calls for reform nationwide. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she is angry, and called for calm.

Gray was arrested last Sunday morning; police say he had a knife. He was loaded into a police van under surveillance from pole cameras and a woman who was videoing the scene with her phone and screaming, "His leg look broke!" Gray was conscious when he got inside the van.

Half hour later, he was not. Gray's spinal cord was partly severed. He was put into a coma, his spine was operated on, he stayed in a coma, and he died yesterday morning, setting off a firestorm of protest.

After an autopsy, police said Gray suffered no broken bones. His voice box was not crushed, as previously reported. They said Gray asked for an inhaler for his asthma but was not given one.

"I'm angry that we are here again," Rawlings-Blake said. "That we have to tell another mother that her child is dead."

Batts said he does not know all the facts and, according to the medical examiner, "we may never know all the facts." The commissioner said he wants to know if Gray was seat-belted in the transport van "as per policy." He said he wants to know whether and how long the delay was in calling emergency medical personnel. He said he has ordered a review of prisoner transport policies and new training for all officers who drive the transport vans. He said the van drivers will be trained in CPR and first aid as well. "We guarantee transparency," Batts told the reporters. "We also guarantee accountability."

Batts said the investigation into the incident will be completed Friday, May 1. From there, it will go to the State's Attorney who will decide whether or not to charge anyone criminally. Then there will be an "independent review board—the third one of my tenure—to take an honest look" at the department's policies, Batts said.

All of the officers involved in the incident are currently suspended with pay, Batts said.

The press conference itself was unusually large. Typically held in a small side room on the first floor, this one, in the three-story atrium overlooking Power Plant Live, had an air of formality and gravity about it. A few minutes before it started, police spokesman Det. Jeremy Silbert stood at the lecturn and spelled each official's name for the crowd of reporters, including those from the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times.

The attention clearly makes city officials uneasy.

"As we move forward with this investigation it is imperative that we remain one community," Rawlings-Blake said. 

"This is not Ferguson," Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez, who is overseeing the investigation, said in answering a reporter's question about alleged gang threats against police. "Our custom here is to work together towards a solution."

The timeline of events police presented raises more questions than it answers. Three bike cops working a "hot zone"—i.e. a place where drugs are dealt—spotted Gray and another man 8:39 a.m. on Sunday, April 12. Both men fled, cops chased them and caught them within a minute. They say Gray gave up without fighting. One officer pulled out his Taser but did not use it. At 8:44 police called for a transport van. Gray was loaded in and the van was stopped soon after by another police officer, to fill out some paperwork. They pulled Gray out of the van and put leg irons on him, then put him back in the van, police said. By this time, the van driver said Gray is becoming irate. At 8:54 the van is moving again. At 9 a.m. the driver asks for another police unit to check on Gray. Then the van went to pick up another prisoner, and at 9:24 Gray was found unresponsive, and medics were summoned. 

There is no video of the inside of the van.

"We don't know how he sustained those injuries," Rodriguez said. "We will work tirelessly to get to the facts."


Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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