The U.S. Department of Justice announced their decision Tuesday to not prosecute the six Baltimore police officers involved in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, citing “insufficient evidence to support federal criminal civil rights charges.” Three of the officers were acquitted, and, in July 2016, charges were dropped against the other three.
On Sunday, April 12th, two police officers approached Gray on a street corner. When he proceeded to run away, he was assaulted and searched for weapons, according to state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby. The officers found a knife in his pants pocket which they claim was an illegal switchblade, but is argued to have been a pocket knife within the parameters of the law. Gray was handcuffed and held by police until a van arrived. During this time, he requested his inhaler repeatedly, a fact confirmed by mobile phone video. Prosecutors and police officials agree that his complaints of trouble breathing should have been answered with medical attention.
Instead, Gray was put inside a police van approximately twelve minutes after his arrest. According to Ms. Mosby, he was placed “on his stomach head first.” His seatbelt was not secured by the officers, a direct violation of police policy. Gray was “conscious and speaking” at this time, but the van would make four stops in the next half hour before arriving at the station. At the end of this journey, he was unconscious and had to be immediately rushed to the hospital. Doctors found him in critical condition, with his spine “80% severed at his neck,” an injury which requires a significant force equal to that of a car accident. Although treated for three broken vertebrae and an injured voice box, Gray died the next Sunday. Demonstrators led peaceful protests in the following week, but things turned violent later, with smashed and burned cars and looted storefronts.
The DOJ found a lack of evidence supporting that the officers had known an unbuckled seatbelt would pose such a risk, nor that they had received police training about proper use of seatbelts. Baltimore police policy concerning seatbelts, effective until days before the incident, permitted officers to leave detainees without a seatbelt if buckling it would pose a threat to the officer’s safety. The decision has been criticized by several U.S. representatives and senators already, who called upon the DOJ “to provide Baltimore with all federal resources available to improve our police force.” President and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Iffil, said,
We know that spines do not break without cause, and the DOJ and BPD’s credibility to make change a reality in Baltimore hinges not just on their ability to institute much needed reforms to police training, policies and practices, but also on their success in bringing to justice officers who abuse their power and take the lives of innocent residents.