Tensions remain high over Gray's death

Hundreds protest in West Baltimore, call for prosecution of police.

Tensions remained high across Baltimore on Tuesday, from the West Baltimore neighborhoods where hundreds of protesters called for the prosecution of police to inside City Hall, where council members quizzed police brass looking for answers as to how Freddie Gray died in police custody.

Protesters turned out for a third consecutive day of demonstrations following Gray's death, this time gathering at the intersection where Gray was arrested and marching to the Western District police station, where officers had pulled his unresponsive body out of a prisoner transport van.

The crowd chanted, prayed and demanded changes. Dirt bikers revved their engines and popped wheelies as they chugged through throngs of people, sending some scurrying. Mounted police and uniformed officers formed lines to keep control as camera crews filmed.

"Baltimore is on the map, nationally," City Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton said during an afternoon hearing with police. "It's time for God to be with all of us and keep us safe and in prayer."

Gray suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody on April 12. He died seven days later. The lack of thorough explanations as to why he was stopped or how he was injured has roiled a city struggling with allegations of police brutality and racial issues as the nation wrestles with similar problems.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts sought to bolster confidence publicly and within the Police Department. He walked through the Gilmor Homes housing complex, where Gray was arrested, and spoke with residents, many of whom remain angry. The day before, he met with the officers involved in Gray's arrest and sent an internal agency­wide email saying, "The facts, not emotion, will determine the outcome in this case."

Six Baltimore officers remain suspended with pay pending the results of the police investigation. The number of investigations into Gray's death grew to four on Tuesday: a criminal review that will be turned over to the state's attorney's office by May 1; an internal administrative investigation to determine if officers should be fired or disciplined; a review from an independent panel that Batts commissioned; and now, a civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The announcement of the federal investigation came as police briefed council members during a public safety committee hearing Tuesday.

"The more eyes and hands trying to handle a problem the better," City Councilman Brandon M. Scott said.

Police union president Gene Ryan said the officers involved deserve due process. He voiced disappointment in city pastors who have been leading protests, saying they should be presuming innocence and calling for calm.

"I don't know how leaders of a religious institution can crucify these officers without knowing all the facts of the investigation," he said. "Let the investigation take its course. The federal government is involved. The truth will come out."

In front of the Western District police station Tuesday evening, the Rev. Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple used a loudspeaker to lead demonstrators in prayer and demanded that the six officers be arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

"Our biggest enemy should not be the people who should be protecting us," he said.

The crowd held several moments of silence, holding their hands up as they faced the roughly 50 officers lined up stoically behind a barrier.

Gray's family members were visibly shaken as they led the crowd back up Mount Street. His mother, Gloria Darden, pulled a sweatshirt hood over her face, and was overcome with emotion for a moment as she walked with Bryant and Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP.

"They're just a grieving family," Bryant said. "It's taken a whole lot out of them to be here."

When the group arrived at a small memorial set up in Gilmor Homes, family members and close friends hugged, tears streaming down their cheeks.

"Aye Pepper!" one yelled, calling Gray's nickname out as he looked to the sky.

A police report said Gray was stopped because he fled from police unprovoked. Police said they used no force arresting Gray, who was put into a police transport van while complaining of asthma. About a half-hour later, police said, he was unresponsive, in critical condition.

At West Baltimore's Gilmor Homes, some who said they witnessed the incident said Gray was beaten. But police said video footage, interviews and an autopsy don't support those claims.

Officers went door-to-door Tuesday asking residents if they witnessed or recorded Gray's arrest. "It was like being interrogated," said Jernita Stackhouse.

One man crumpled up a sheet police gave him telling how to contact the department, while a woman yelled at two officers, "You killed that boy."

Baltimore police released the names of the six officers suspended with pay during the investigation. They include Lt. Brian Rice, a member of the Baltimore Police Department since 1997. Police said Rice, 41, was the officer who first made eye contact with Gray and another man. After making eye contact, police said, Gray ran from police before he was tackled and detained.

Rice made nearly $88,000 in 2013, according to city records.

Other officers involved in Gray's arrest are Sgt. Alicia White, 30, a member of the department since 2010; Officer Caesar Goodson, 45, who has been on the police force since 1999; Officer William Porter, 25, Officer Garrett Miller, 26, and Officer Edward Nero, 29, all of whom joined the department in 2012, police said. The officers made between $39,000 and $75,000 in 2013, according to city records.

Three of the officers were on bicycles when they arrested Gray. One of the officers was the van transport driver and two others were called to help check on Gray in the back of the van, police said. Police did not specify each of the officers' roles in Gray's arrest and transport.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday that she still doesn't have a clear understanding of why Gray was stopped.

"The mayor as recently as a few days ago said one of her frustrations with trying to piece this together is that we can't seem to establish probable cause," her spokesman Kevin Harris said. "All we have from the police documents so far is that he made eye contact or he had a knife. From her years serving as a public defender, having a knife is not necessarily probable cause to chase or arrest someone.

"The information we have so far is clearly insufficient as well in establishing why he was pursued in the first place."

Rawlings-Blake also spoke with Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday and asked him to authorize the office of the chief medical examiner to release "concrete information" about Gray's autopsy as soon as possible, Harris said.

Councilman Scott said he plans to hold hearings on the state of Baltimore police's fleet of vans or "wagons." Police had pledged to replace them last year but scrapped the plan. Officials said Tuesday they are checking all of the vans to make sure they're outfitted with proper restraints and are considering putting cameras inside. Police said Tuesday that Gray was not initially in restraints when put in the van.

Billy Murphy, attorney for Gray's family, said the Police Department's acknowledgment that Gray made multiple requests for medical assistance but did not receive it is a major issue that affects all residents.

"That should be a concern to every citizen," he said. "Ignoring people's legitimate health concerns is absolutely unacceptable."

He said his firm continues to investigate circumstances surrounding Gray's arrest.

"If there was ever a set of facts that would cause a person to look at a civil case, it's this one," he said.

Murphy said Gray's family remains "devastated" and "absolutely in shock" and are seeking privacy as they mourn. They have not yet planned a funeral.

Controversy remained over whether Gray should have been stopped by police just because he ran away from them once he saw them.

"Running while black is not a crime," Murphy said. "Being afraid of police and running from them in retrospect is a great idea. He just didn't run fast enough."

Murphy said police's delay in providing an explanation for the stop shows they don't want to admit liability.

"If you're still searching for probable cause after the arrest, what does that tell you?" he said. "They should just fess up about that."

David Gray, a University of Maryland law professor who teaches criminal law and criminal procedure, said the Supreme Court has ruled that running away from police, by itself, is not justification for an arrest. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist wrote that refusing to cooperate with police "does not furnish the minimal level of objective justification needed for detention and seizure," Gray pointed out.

Meanwhile police commanders and activists sent messages to their audiences, saying they had their backs.

The president of the Baltimore NAACP said that a "gulf that exists in the level of trust between the citizens and the police appears to be at all-time low."

Baltimore police Deputy Commissioner Dean Palmere sent a message to officers on patrol via the police dispatch radio channel.

"Members of the community are frustrated and they have every right to peacefully voice that frustration. I want to urge each of you not to lose focus in the crime fight. It continues to be a difficult time for everyone. … Have pride in each other, and on behalf of myself and all your commanders, we thank you for your hard work and dedication. Most importantly, be safe and back one another up."

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton, Colin Campbell, Jessica Anderson and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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Tuesday's developments

•U.S. Department of Justice will open its own investigation into the 25-year-old's death

•Baltimore police release names of six officers suspended while Freddie Gray's death is investigated

•Commissioner Batts tells suspended officers facts, not emotion, will determine outcome of case

•Protesters turn out for a third consecutive day of demonstrations

•Death of prisoner in Aberdeen remains under investigation

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