BALTIMORE — Six police officers face felony charges for their alleged roles in the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody, his pleas for help ignored, Baltimore’s top prosecutor announced Friday.
“The findings of our comprehensive, thorough, independent investigation coupled with the medical examiner’s determination that Mr. Gray’s death was a homicide . . . has led us to believe that we have probable cause to file criminal charges,” said Marilyn J. Mosby, the state’s attorney for Baltimore City, from the steps of the War Memorial building. A gathering crowd cheered her declaration.
Mosby said that Gray’s April 12 arrest was illegal, that he had committed no crime, and that officers failed to establish probable cause to detain him.
Gray suffered a critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet, and left unrestrained inside the back of a police wagon, which is against department policy, Mosby said. He died April 19 after being in a coma for a week.
“I need to express publicly my sympathies to the loved ones of Freddie Gray,” Mosby said, noting she met with the family to discuss the procedural steps of the case. “I assured his family that no one is above the law and that I would pursue justice on their behalf.”
Across Baltimore, but especially at the crossroads of a disturbance that roiled the city earlier in the week, news of the indictment was greeted with cheers and hugs.
For many, the charges marked the dawn of a new era in a city with a history of police brutality and misconduct.
“We have had a history of corrupt politicians, black and white,” said Melech E. M. Thomas, 27, minister at Bethel AME Church, in West Baltimore.
“Just about every black person in the city of Baltimore knows someone in their family or themselves that have been affected by police brutality,” he said. To see police officers held accountable for their actions, he said, “makes us feel a little bit more American than we did yesterday.”
Mosby said the officers had no reason to pursue Gray, who took off running after making eye contact with police. Gray was falsely accused of having an illegal switchblade. The knife that was clipped to his pants is permissible under Maryland law.
After his arrest, Gray repeatedly requested medical attention to no avail and told officers he could not breathe. His calls for help were ignored, and officers even rerouted the van to pick up another suspect.
The officers failed to help Gray at least five times, Mosby said. By the time they arrived at a police station, Gray was no longer breathing.
“Despite Mr. Gray’s seriously deteriorating medical condition, no medical assistance was rendered or summoned for Mr. Gray at that time by any officer,” Mosby said.
All of the officers have been charged with maximum penalties, including second-degree manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. has been charged with second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicle, and related charges. Officer William G. Porter and Sergeant Alicia D. White face charges of involuntary manslaughter and related offenses. Lieutenant Brian W. Rice has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and false imprisonment.
Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller face charges of second-degree assault and false imprisonment, Mosby said.
Bail for the officers ranged from $250,000 to $350,000. Friday night, all six officers posted bail and were released from custody.
Pennsylvania Avenue and West North Street in West Baltimore — epicenter of riots earlier in the week — was transformed into a space of celebration following Friday’s announcement.
Kyron Johnson danced up and down the street, his hands in the air, shouting “Yeah” to the blare of car horns.
“For them to give him justice, it’s like they’re giving me justice,” said the 22-year-old Park Heights resident. “These charges make me happy.”
Within minutes, more people poured onto the streets, most ignoring police officers and National Guard troops standing nearby.
“It’s big!” said 28-year-old Justin Munson, who urged drivers to honk as they rode past a burned-down CVS, torched during Monday’s riots. “This isn’t just for Freddie Gray. It’s for all of the young black people who have been abused by the police force.”
Gang members, including the Bloods and the Crips, stood together on West North Street.
The charges probably meant there will be no more uprisings, said Nikko Caldwell, a 25-year-old who identified himself as a member of the Bloods.
Amani Lewis was in class when she heard the news and quickly made her way to the streets to celebrate. “This is all love right here,” the 20-year-old Lewis said. “Finally, people can start mourning and resting more peacefully.”
Mosby, a Boston native who said her office conducted its own investigation, announced the charges a day after the Police Department handed over its investigation.
“I didn’t think it would come this fast, and I never thought they would indict,” said 65-year-old Dorcina Moulden. “I’m surprised at Baltimore. They did what they started out to do.”
Gray’s family was shocked by the news, which they learned as they sat gathered around the television Friday morning, attorney Bill Murphy said at a news conference.
“The blue wall of silence which makes police inspired to conceal evil must come down,” said Murphy, with Gray’s family seated beside him. “We want justice.”
Michael Davey, a lawyer hired by the police union, said that officers did nothing wrong and that Mosby committed an “egregious rush to judgement.”
The officers were booked Friday.
Gray was arrested in Sandtown, a low-income, mostly African-American neighborhood in West Baltimore. He was pinned to the sidewalk, handcuffed two blocks away, and placed on his stomach inside a police van, according a bystander’s video.
Hours after the charges, peaceful protests carried on, with marchers heading to City Hall, where they chanted “Freddie Gray.” Gray had become not only the nation’s latest symbol of police brutality but of the myriad issues plaguing a city beset with joblessness, drugs, and poverty.
The charges against the officers, said Courtney Campbell, 30, were “what the city needed.”
“The city has been at war for a long time,” the East Baltimore resident said. “This finally brought some peace to the city.”Jan Ransom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jan_Ransom.