Baltimore probes death of man in police custody

Freddie Gray died Sunday at a hospital, a week after he was hurt following an arrest by Baltimore police

Baltimore authorities have launched an investigation into the death of a man injured in police custody, and the mayor vowed to ensure the city held “the right people accountable.”

Freddie Gray, 25, died Sunday at a hospital, a week after he was hurt following an arrest. A timeline released earlier in the week by police said Gray was taken by a van from the scene to a station, where an ambulance was called to take him to a hospital. Civilian video showed him being loaded into the van, but did not show the entire encounter.

Gray was black; the officers involved were white, according to Reuters. Gray's death follows a series of killings of unarmed black men by white police officers. The deadly encounters, including incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City, have raised a national outcry over the treatment of minorities by law enforcement. Most recently, a white officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, was charged with murder earlier this month after a bystander's video caught him shooting a black man in the back as he fled from a traffic stop.

An attorney retained by Gray's family, Billy Murphy, described extensive injuries.

“What we know is that while in police custody for committing no crime, for which they had no justification for making an arrest except that there was a black man running, his spine was virtually severed, 80 percent severed in the neck area, and he died of those injuries,” Murphy said.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and top police officials promised accountability and transparency on Sunday. Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said a criminal investigation was underway.

“It's a two-part investigation. One is a criminal case, for Mr. Gray and also the officers,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez declined to specify why four bicycle officers stopped Gray, who has been in and out of prison for several drug convictions in Baltimore, starting in 2008, according to online court records.

“We had officers in a high-crime area known to have high narcotic incidents,” Rodriguez said. “The officers believe that Mr. Gray was immediately involved or recently involved in criminal activity and decided to make contact.”

According to police, Gray ran as police approached and was caught about two blocks away. The police timeline said the van taking him to the station stopped “to place additional restraints on the suspect.” It adds that “Video evidence indicates the suspect was conscious and speaking at this time,” but 10 minutes later, police asked for paramedics to come to the station.

Murphy on Sunday disputed that timeline, saying that he believes Gray was in police custody for at least an hour after he was arrested.

Police have not released any video of the incident.

On Sunday, Rodriguez was asked if Gray was injured in the van.

“That is truly what we want to find out. There was no evidence — I can say with certainty — we have no physical, video or any other evidence that an altercation” resulted in injury, he said.

Gray's family has declined, so far, to interact with police, said Police Commissioner Anthony Batts. He said the department would try again this week to share information with them.

The department, an independent review board and the Baltimore prosecutor's office will investigate the case, Batts said.

“I extend my deepest sympathies to his family. I have no words to offer that will ease the pain that has resulted,” Batts said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“All lives matter,” he added, in a nod to the “Black Lives Matter” slogan shouted at protests across the country in response to recent police brutality incidents.

The U.S. Department of Justice is conducting a separate review of complaints about Baltimore's Police Department at Batts' request, according to the Sun. That request followed a Baltimore Sun investigation that found taxpayers had paid nearly $6 million since 2011 to settle more than 100 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct.

The officers, who have been placed on administrative leave, have not been identified.

 Al Jazeera with wire services

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