Baltimore police on Friday said Freddie Gray, whose unexplained death in police custody has sparked protests, should have received medical care before he was put in a police van earlier this month. Speaking at a news conference, city authorities also said that Gray should have been buckled in when he was in the van — but that he was not.
People angry over Gray's death promised their biggest-yet protest march would come Saturday, when they would try to shut down the city. Gray was arrested April 12 after he made eye contact with officers and ran away, police said. Officers held him down, handcuffed him and loaded him into a police van. While inside, he became irate and leg cuffs were put on him, according to police.
Gray was not buckled in by a seat belt, a violation of the police department's policy.
He asked for medical help several times, and after a 30-minute ride, paramedics were called. At some point — apparently either during his arrest or inside the van — he suffered a mysterious spinal injury.
Baltimore's deputy police commissioner has said that Gray should have received medical attention before being put into the van. And Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said Friday that authorities were focused on analyzing "multiple gaps" in CCTV camera footage showing what happened after the arrest. Batts did not elaborate.
Batts said that "if someone harmed Freddie Gray ... they have to be held accountable." Six officers have been suspended with pay during the investigation.
Meanwhile, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake thanked protesters for being peaceful so far and said the police commissioner had assured her that the investigation into Gray's death is moving as quickly as possible. She expects the results to be turned over to prosecutors in a week. They will decide whether any criminal charges are to be filed.
"I will not deny we have had a very long and complicated history on issues such as these," Rawlings-Blake said Friday. "But it's important to remember that we have an equally long history of peaceful and legal protest."
"I still want to know why none of the officers called for immediate medical assistance despite Mr. Gray's sapient pleas," the mayor said.
Asked if Gray's possible "rough ride" was the only incident of its kind, she said: "It's clearly not a one-off. The reason we have the policy around seat belts in the police vans is because of an incident that happened previously." She was referring to Dondi Johnson, who died of a fractured spine in 2005 after he was arrested for urinating in public and transported without a seat belt, with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Meanwhile, the leader of a group of local ministers called on Police Commissioner Batts to resign immediately.
"It seems that no one in the police department can explain what happened," said the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore.
He said the police department is "in disarray" and Batts has shown a "lack of viable leadership capabilities."
The president of a black lawyers' group predicted that thousands of people would turn out to protest on Saturday, when good weather is forecast.
"Things will change on Saturday, and the struggle will be amplified," said Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice.
Shabazz rejected the notion that he was an outside agitator who would stir up trouble.
Bernard Young, Baltimore City Council president, said ahead of a rally on Thursday that he hoped citizens wouldn't let "outside forces come in here and dictate how we act by destroying our infrastructure."
"We can lead ourselves. We're capable of doing that," he said.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press