The Justice Department is opening a civil rights investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal-cord injury under mysterious circumstances after he was handcuffed and put in the back of a police van.
After the probe was announced on Tuesday, at least 1,000 people gathered at a previously planned rally at the site of Gray's arrest. Protesters marched to the city's Western District police headquarters, chanting and holding signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "No Justice, No Peace" — slogans that have come to embody what demonstrators believe is widespread mistreatment of black people by police.
At least one an activist was detained when he jumped past police barriers.
Gray's mother, Gloria Darden, was overcome with grief and carried away at one point by several men. Another woman in the family collapsed in tears and was also helped away Tuesday evening.
Demanding "Justice for Freddie," the protesters were calling for the six officers to be charged with first-degree murder, according to CNN.
Earlier in the day, Baltimore police identified six officers who have been suspended over the death, which sparked outrage in the largely black city and renewed concern about law enforcement treatment of minorities in the United States.
Gray, 25, was taken into custody April 12 after police "made eye contact" with him and another man in an area known for drug activity, police said. Gray was handcuffed and put in a transport van. At some point during his roughly 30-minute ride, the van was stopped and Gray's legs were shackled when an officer felt he was becoming "irate," police said.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts on Monday said that Gray asked for an inhaler, and then several times asked for medical care. He was eventually rushed to a hospital.
Gray died Sunday — a week after his arrest — of what police described as "a significant spinal injury."
Exactly how he was injured and what happened in the van is still not known.
Justice Department spokeswoman Dena Iverson said investigators are "gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred."
It's not uncommon for federal investigators to look into allegations of excessive police force. Justice Department investigations in the last year include probes into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri — a case that resulted in no charges against the officer — and an ongoing review of a police chokehold death of a New York City man, Eric Gardner.
There's a high threshold for bringing federal civil rights charges against police officers in such cases. Federal investigators must show an officer willfully deprived a person of his or her civil rights by using more force than the law allows, a standard that's challenging in rapidly unfolding confrontations in which snap judgments are made.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she welcomed the Justice Department probe.
"Whenever a police force conducts an internal investigation, there are always appropriate questions of transparency and impartiality," she said. "My goal has always been to get answers to the questions so many of us are still asking with regards to Mr. Gray's death."
In the Baltimore case, the six suspended officers have been on the force from three years to 18 years.
According to court documents, Officer Garrett Miller accused Gray of carrying a switchblade, which was discovered in Gray's pocket after he was stopped.
Baltimore police identified the other officers suspended with pay as Lieutenant Brian Rice, 41, Sergeant Alicia White, 30, Officer William Porter, 25, Officer Edward Nero, 29, and Officer Caesar Goodson, 45.
The officers' specific roles in the arrest were not released by city officials. Bystander video of the arrest shows officers on bicycles, in patrol cars and outside the transport van.
Kim Deachilla, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said a law firm that contracts with the union is representing them.