Civil rights leaders are promising demonstrations in Baltimore for the rest of the week to protest the death of Freddie Gray, whose spine was severed while in police custody. It is the latest case of an unarmed African-American to die after an encounter with police and raises the same questions with which the nation has been wrestling for more than a year. Here is what we know — and don’t know — about the case.
Q: Who was Freddie Gray?
A: Freddie Gray was a 25-year-old resident of the neighborhood around the Gilmor Homes, a Baltimore Housing Authority project. He stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 145 pounds. He had a police record, mainly on drug charges and minor crimes, according to court records reported by the Baltimore Sun.
Q: What happened on April 12?
A: Gray and a friend were walking in the neighborhood when they and police crossed paths about 8:39 a.m., according to the official police timeline of events. Police said Gray and his friend ran and officers gave chase.
Q: Did police have probable cause to give chase?
A: This is one of the areas being investigated. The family says there was none, while police will probably point to a charging document that says Gray had a switchblade knife, which is illegal, and could have faced a year in jail if convicted. It is unknown how police knew that Gray was armed, however. The knife was found clipped to the inside of his right pants pocket. A comment by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake at a news conference was an indication of just how contentious this question is: “We know that having a knife is not necessarily a crime,” she said, calling it “not necessarily probable cause.”
Q: What happened after the stop?
A: Officers caught up with Gray, who gave up without any use of force, according to police. One officer took out a stun gun but it was never fired. Gray asked for an inhaler and police called for a wagon to transport him. A video shows Gray on the ground with two officers; Gray is then put into a police van. What happens in the van is not recorded on any video.
Q: Does the van then go directly to police headquarters?
A: No. Around 8:46 a.m., about seven minutes after the incident began, police reported that Gray was acting “irate.” The van stopped and Gray was taken out and put on the ground. Cellphone videos that surfaced this week show police putting leg irons on Gray, who is then put back into the van. Authorities say they have interviewed several witnesses who saw the second stop and more witnesses are being sought.
Q: Does the van then go directly to headquarters?
A: No. Police say Gray was complaining about his health so the officers in the van asked for an additional unit to check on Gray. Meanwhile, another individual arrested in an unrelated case was picked up for transport as well. The two prisoners were separated by a metal barrier and had no contact. By 9:24 a.m., a paramedic was called, less than an hour after Gray was initially detained. Gray slipped into a coma and died a week later.
Q: How did Gray die?
A: According to an autopsy, Gray died from an injury that severed his spine. There were no indications of force or bruising, police said, and they do not know when or how his spine was severed. “When Mr. Gray was put in that van, he could talk and he was upset,” Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said during a televised news conference. “When he was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe.”
The family has said Gray suffered three fractured vertebrae and that his larynx was crushed. The spine was 80 percent severed, according to the family’s attorney.
Q: Is police violence against people in Baltimore an issue?
A: The use of force by police is always an issue, especially in the wake of events in Ferguson, Mo.; New York’s Staten Island; and North Charleston, S.C. Earlier this year, the American Civil Liberties Union reported that 109 people died after encounters with police in Maryland between 2010 and 2014. Baltimore had the highest number, with 31 people who died after encounters with police. The ACLU report also found that, of those who died, 75 of them were black, and 45 were unarmed. It is hard to know how Baltimore compares with other cities or states since there are no official national statistics, but the mayor and police commissioner have said they were aware of community concerns, which is why they asked the U.S. Justice Department to examine the city’s police policy and procedures.
Q: What has happened on the investigation front?
A: The six officers involved in the case have been suspended pending a local police investigation. That report will be sent to state prosecutors by May 1, officials said.
In addition, the Justice Department announced it will investigate to see if a federal civil rights charge is warranted.
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