mardi 21 avril 2015

Baltimore Suspends 6 Police Officers in Inquiry in Death of Freddie Gray

BALTIMORE — Six police officers have been suspended and officials said Monday that they were changing police procedures as they investigated the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who was rushed to the hospital with a severed spinal cord after being chased and tackled by officers. With the city on edge after days of protests that continued Monday evening, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts appeared at a news conference and appealed for continued calm. Mr. Batts said the Police Department would wrap up its inquiry on May 1, though investigators said they still do not understand precisely how — or when — Mr. Gray was injured. “We have no evidence — physical, video or statements — of any use of force,” the deputy police commissioner, Jerry Rodriguez, said at the news conference. “He did suffer a very tragic injury to his spinal cord, which resulted in his death. What we don’t know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred.” Photo Freddie Gray Mr. Gray died Sunday, a week after his arrest. Witnesses captured parts of his encounter with the police on a cellphone video, in which screams can be heard as officers drag him into a transport van. An autopsy showed no wounds, except for the severed spinal cord, and the videos do not show the police acting forcefully. Mr. Batts, however, conceded that officers had been slow to recognize that Mr. Gray, who apparently had asthma, needed medical attention; before he was put in the van, he asked for his inhaler, which he did not have with him. “We should have probably asked for paramedics” sooner, the commissioner said. He added that his department had already begun changing policies governing the transport of suspects, and the care of people who require medical attention while in police custody. The officers involved were suspended with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. The death of Mr. Gray came amid growing national outrage over police treatment of black men, and questions about why officers are so rarely prosecuted. In Michigan on Monday, a police officer in the Detroit suburb of Inkster was charged with mistreatment of a prisoner and assault, both felonies, in connection with a January traffic stop in which he hauled a man out of his car and repeatedly punched him in the head. Also on Monday, a Los Angeles police officer was charged with assault under the color of authority against a black man who had surrendered to the police and was lying on the ground. Here in Maryland, where both Ms. Rawlings-Blake and Mr. Batts offered condolences to the Gray family, Mr. Batts said his department would refer its findings to the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, for possible prosecution. Ms. Mosby said in a statement that her office had “dedicated all its existing resources to independently investigate this matter to determine whether criminal charges will be brought.” Police officers filed court documents on Monday saying Mr. Gray had been arrested “without force or incident.” The documents show that Mr. Gray had been carrying a switchblade, but Ms. Rawlings-Blake said she wanted to put to rest any rumors that this was the reason officers pursued Mr. Gray. “We know that having a knife is not necessarily a crime,” the mayor said. According to a detailed timeline presented Monday by the deputy commissioner, Mr. Rodriguez, a police lieutenant made eye contact with Mr. Gray shortly before 8:40 a.m. on April 12 in a neighborhood on the west side of the city known for drug dealing. When Mr. Gray ran away, three officers on bicycles pursued him; they caught him and restrained him on the ground. Mr. Gray “gave up without the use of force,” Mr. Rodriguez said, adding that an officer took out his Taser but did not use it. Mr. Gray then asked for his inhaler, but was conscious and speaking when he was loaded into the van to be taken to the police station. On the way to the station, the van made at least two stops — including one in which Mr. Gray was taken out and placed in leg shackles after the driver complained he was “acting irate in the back,” Mr. Rodriguez said. After Mr. Gray arrived at Baltimore’s Western District station, police officers called medics, who took him to a hospital. The police also released a video, taken from a building near the scene of the arrest, though it showed little; the footage comes from a closed-circuit television system run by the city. Mr. Gray’s family has not spoken in public. But the lawyer for the family, William Murphy Jr., has disputed the police account and accused the authorities of trying to cover up their actions. “There’s a lot of missing information,” Mr. Murphy said in an interview, adding that he was still awaiting medical records, a copy of the autopsy report and officers’ audio transmissions. Maryland court records show Mr. Gray was arrested in December and March on drug charges, including possession of heroin, but Mr. Murphy said that history was irrelevant. Neighbors said Mr. Gray had occasionally worked in construction. Outside the Western District station on Monday night, in the neighborhood where Mr. Gray grew up, angry residents confronted a phalanx of officers, roughly half of them black, demanding to know why Mr. Gray had not been given medical help sooner. “Why would you put someone in a paddy wagon who needs medical help?” a man who identified himself only as Antonio yelled at the officers. “You’re supposed to call an ambulance.” For Ms. Rawlings-Blake and Mr. Batts, both of whom are African-American, the death and protests pose a particular challenge; the mayor recently issued a “call to action” to ease black-on-black crime and improve the lives of young black men in a city where relations between the police and black residents have in the past been tense. “This is a very, very tense time for Baltimore City, and I understand the community’s frustration,” the mayor said. “I understand it because I’m frustrated. I’m angry that we are here again, that we have to tell another mother that her child is dead. I’m frustrated not only that we are here, but we don’t have all of the answers.”