Justice in Baltimore
By The Editors — May 24, 2016
‘To the people of Baltimore and demonstrators across America: I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace.’” So brayed Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby a little over a year ago in announcing charges against six police officers in the death of Freddy Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man who perished following a severe spinal injury sustained in a police van after being arrested.
The case should never have been brought. It is manifest that Gray’s death was a tragic accident, not a prosecutable homicide. The absence of incriminating evidence became painfully clear again on Monday, when officer Edward Nero was acquitted on all counts in the first case to go to verdict.
On April 12, 2015, during a period of intense patrols in a high crime area, police encountered Gray, whose lengthy rap sheet included at least 18 arrests (mostly drug offenses, interspersed with the odd assault and escape charges). The arrest was clearly made in good faith: upon making eye contact with an officer, Gray fled as if he had committed a crime. This raised reasonable suspicion, causing police to pursue him. Upon finally stopping and frisking him, officers found what was later described as a “spring-assisted, one-hand-operated knife.” They placed him under arrest.
As they loaded him into a van for the trip to central booking, Gray was obstreperous. Though a new department guideline called for belting a detainee into a seat for transport, few if any of the police knew of it. Belting was not the departmental practice because it is dangerous: As the officer performs the necessary maneuvers, it puts his holstered firearm in a position where the suspect may attempt to grab it. Plus, Gray’s wild comportment would have made belting difficult in any event. So police instead placed Gray, who was in leg and hand restraints, in a prone position on the floor of the van. The medical examiner concluded that Gray would not have been injured had he maintained that position.