Baltimore cops charged over Freddie Gray's death
02 May 2015, 09:24
Baltimore - Six Baltimore police officers were charged on Friday over the death of a 25-year-old African-American from injuries sustained while in custody, in a surprise announcement after days of riots and protests in the US city.
The charges - ranging from second-degree murder and manslaughter to misconduct - were set out by Maryland state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said five of the six had been taken in custody.
"The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation, coupled with the medical examiner's determination that Mr Gray's death was a homicide... have led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges," Mosby said.
Cheers broke out when Mosby unveiled the charges on the steps of Baltimore's war memorial, across the street from city hall - a focal point of protests demanding justice over Gray's death.
Many in this East Coast port city of 620 000, about an hour's drive north of Washington, had expected Mosby only to say that the case was still under investigation, one day after Police Commissioner Anthony Batts submitted his detectives' findings to date.
"I didn't know that a decision would be coming today," said Congressman Elijah Cummings, whose district includes much of Baltimore.
Cars honked their horns, and youths chanted "Justice for Freddie Gray" as they lifted their fists into the air in a gesture of victory.
Baltimore is still under a state of emergency, with the National Guard alongside police in riot gear on the streets, and an overnight curfew in place.
Gray, who had a record of non-violent drug offenses, died April 19 from spinal injuries sustained when he was arrested a week earlier in a west Baltimore public housing estate.
Charged with murder
Facing the most serious charges of second-degree murder is Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van that transported Gray to a police station.
Goodson, 45, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, vehicular manslaughter and misconduct.
Three other officers were charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct, and two more charged with second-degree assault and misconduct.
One officer was also charged with false imprisonment.
All six officers have been suspended with pay since Gray's death.
Mosby - an African-American woman who is the daughter, granddaughter and niece of police officers - said Gray had been "illegally arrested" as "no crime had been committed."
She urged protesters to keep the peace in the wake of the charges, and reiterated that the investigation was ongoing.
In an open letter, Baltimore's police union called for an independent prosecutor to take over the case from Mosby, who at 34 is America's youngest big-city chief prosecutor.
It cited Mosby's relationships with Gray's family lawyer, who contributed $5 000 to her election campaign, and her husband, a city council member who represents the poverty-stricken section of Baltimore where Gray lived and died.
Gray has become the latest face of an intense national debate over whether American police are too quick to use violence against unarmed black males.
In the best-known case, a white police officer fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri - prompting riots in the St. Louis suburb - but was not indicted by a grand jury.
In December, a grand jury similarly did not indict a New York police officer over the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
In North Charleston, South Carolina, however, a police officer stands accused of murder after he was captured on video fatally shooting Walter Scott during a traffic stop on April 4.
And in Oklahoma, a reserve deputy sheriff has pleaded not guilty of manslaughter after he fatally shot Eric Harris. He claims he thought he had drawn his Taser stun gun, not a firearm, when Harris was apprehended during a sting operation.
'Lacked probable cause'
Recounting the circumstances of Gray's arrest, Mosby said police made eye contact with Gray, and pursued him on foot and on bicycles, but lacked probable cause to detain him - and repeatedly denied his requests for medical help.
Mosby said Gray "suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained" inside the police van.
En route to the Western District police station, the police van stopped at least three times, including once to pick up a suspect in an unrelated case.
Goodson got out to check on Gray's condition, Mosby said, but "at no point did he seek nor did he render any medical assistance".
Among the other officers charged, Mosby said Sergeant Alicia White, 30, witnessed Gray unresponsive on the floor of the police van, yet "did nothing further", despite being told he needed medical help.
"It is absolutely vital that the truth comes out on what happened to Freddie Gray," Obama said at the White House after the dramatic revelation of the charges.
"What I think the people of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth. That's what people around the country expect."