The mysterious death of 25-year-old Baltimore man Freddie Gray has been partially illuminated when a copy of the autopsy report leaked to the media this week. Since April 12th, the facts of Gray’s arrest and subsequent death have been murky at best. It was known that he “made eye contact with an officer” and took off running. Though he had a knife in his possession – that, in itself, is not a crime. Somehow suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody and he would succumb to those injuries a week later.
However, the officers indicted in the arrest denied any wrongdoing. All six have pled “not guilty” to charges of second-degree assault, manslaughter and second-degree depraved heart murder, with a pretrial hearing set for September 2nd and a trial date set for October 13th. Baltimore police union Lt. Gene Ryan urged the public to sit back, take a breath and let everything unfold. “I want to see all the evidence come out,” he added, “because I believe our guys have nothing to hide.”
Autopsy Supports Homicide Charges
The autopsy report shows that Freddie Gray suffered a single “high-energy injury” to his spine and neck, similar to what medical examiners see in shallow-water diving accidents. The state medical examiner concluded that Gray was not belted in, which is in violation of official police policy. It was surmised that Gray somehow got to his feet and sustained the trauma in an “unsupported fall” when the police van suddenly decelerated and changed direction. The Baltimore Sun reports: “The state medical examiner’s office concluded that Gray’s death could not be ruled an accident, and was instead a homicide, because officers failed to follow safety procedures ‘through acts of omission.’”
Chronology of Events
Relying on witness statements, videos, examination of the transport van, toxicology results and a comprehensive medical examination, the autopsy report surmised the following:
- When apprehended, Gray had opiates and cannabinoid in his system, but had no history of previous injuries.
- Though Gray was viewed on videotapes moaning for help, he did not suffer injuries from a neck hold or physical restraint during his arrest. Witnesses cried out that he had a broken leg, but he was seen bearing weight on both legs while being loaded into the van.
- The arrestee was cuffed and placed on a metal bench along the wall of the van, but was not belted in. Gray was heard yelling and banging on the walls, which caused the van to rock.
- The van stopped a few blocks away on Baker Street, where Gray was removed and placed in a kneeling position to be further restrained by ankle cuffs; he was then slid onto the floor of the van, headfirst and belly down.
- Another stop – captured on video — occurred at Fremont and Mosher streets where the van driver got out and looked in the van. It is believed the trauma occurred just before or right after this stop. While he may have been injured while lying on the floor, the autopsy concludes that it’s more likely he got to a standing position and suffered an unsupported fall, causing loss of function in his limbs and difficulty breathing.
- At a Dolphin Street / Druid Hill Avenue stop, Gray was lying belly down on the floor, asking for a medic, saying he couldn’t breathe or get up. The officer helped him to the bench and the van continued.
- A fifth stop at North and Pennsylvania avenues picked up a second arrestee. Gray was found kneeling on the floor, slumped to his right against the bench – lethargic and unable to respond appropriately to direct questions. The passenger reported hearing Gray banging and kicking through the metal divider, which could have been a seizure.
Was Excessive Force And Police Brutality To Blame For The Death Of Freddie Gray?
This case has yet to see its day in court, but one of the central issues in the case will surely be whether this case represents an extreme example of criminal police brutality that has become all too common in recent years OR a death resulting from broken procedure, negligence and lack of prompt medical attention.