Cops Almost Saved Freddie Grey—and Themselves
As the Maryland State Attorney read a statement of probable cause, it was clear everything following Freddie Gray’s death could have been prevented.
On what was supposed to have been Maryland’s Fallen Heroes Day, six Baltimore police officers stood as prisoners in the same booking facility where Freddie Gray was being transported to when he pleaded for medical assistance.
The most serious charge, second degree “depraved heart” murder, had been lodged against the driver of the van, Officer Caesar Goodson. He and Officer William Porter had at one point discussed heeding Gray’s pleas and taking him to where he could get help.
Had they done so, Gray might still be alive. The six cops might still be out on patrol. The city of Baltimore might have been spared a riot. And Maryland might have gone ahead with a day to honor the first responders who gave their lives seeking to keep others safe.
But then a call had crackled over the police radio: ironically enough, a call for assistance, but one to assist fellow officers.
“While discussing the transportation of Mr. Gray for medical attention, a request for additional units was made for an arrest,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said as she read a statement of probable cause on Friday morning.
Any thought of assisting Gray and driving him to a hospital seems to have been suddenly forgotten. Porter hurried off in a squad car. Goodson still could have driven Gray in the van to the nearest hospital. But Goodson knew that fellow cops would be wanting him to transport the new prisoner, and cops come first.
Goodson headed for the scene of the arrest, with Gray still in the back, hurt and unsecured by a seat belt. There is no reason to believe that Goodson drove slowly.
Just imagine how poor Gray must have felt at this added cruel twist to an April morning that had suddenly become a waking nightmare.
Less than an hour before, Gray had been out on the street when he chanced to make eye contact with Lt. Brian Rice. Gray ran for no apparent reason other than perhaps simple fear of the police.
Rice gave chase, along with Officer Edward Nero and Officer Garrett Miller. They quickly caught up with Gray, who seems to have suffered a less than catastrophic injury either when he was tackled or when he was restrained with a technique known as a “leg lace.”
“It was at this time that Mr. Gray indicated he could not breathe and requested an inhaler to no avail,” the prosecutor Mosby said on Friday.
The cops made no effort to get Gray help. The problem for them was a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that running from the police is not a crime. And there seemed no other justification for arresting Gray. He did prove to be carrying a small folding knife in his right front pants pocket, but such implements are not illegal in Maryland.
“No crime had been committed by Mr. Gray,” Mosby said. “Accordingly, Lt. Rice, Officer Miller and Officer Nero illegally arrested Mr. Gray.”
The cops held Gray until a police van driven by Goodson arrived. Gray cried out in pain at least twice and he seemed to be having trouble with one of his legs and perhaps his neck as he was dragged to the back of the van. A cell phone video shows that the cops give no sign of even hearing him. But a number of civilian onlookers did and shouted out in protest. At least two of them telephoned the Baltimore Police Department to register complaints.
As Gray was loaded into the van, he protested as a person might who is injured while being illegally detained by officers sworn to uphold the law. Rice instructed Goodson to drive away from the crowd and pull over a short distance away at Baker Street.
Rice and the other two cops caught up with the van and removed Gray, putting him in leg irons. The cops paused to complete some paperwork in which Gray was described as “irate” and “combative.”
“Officer Miller, Officer Nero and Lt. Rice then loaded Mr. Gray back into the wagon, placing him on his stomach, head first onto the floor of the wagon,” Mosby reported.
The cops apparently ignored department regulations that called for prisoners to be secured with a seatbelt. Another Baltimore man suffered fatal spine injuries while being transported without a seat belt in a police van a decade ago.
“Lt. Rice then directed Officer Goodson to transport Mr. Gray to the Central Booking and Intake Facility,” the prosecutor said.
Goodson drove off and somewhere along the way history tragically repeated itself.
“Following transport from Baker Street, Mr. Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon,” Mosby said.
Goodson must have realized something was wrong and he pulled over to check on Gray.
“Despite stopping for the purpose of checking on Mr. Gray’s condition, at no point did he seek nor did he render any medical assistance for Mr. Gray,” Mosby said. “Officer Goodson returned to his driver’s seat and proceeded toward the Central Booking and Intake facility with Mr. Gray still unsecured by a seatbelt.”
A few blocks further on, Goodson pulled over again. He radioed for an officer to help him check on Gray. Porter pulled up in a squad car.
“Both Officer Goodson and Porter proceeded to the back of the wagon to check on the status of Mr. Gray’s condition,” Mosby said. “Mr. Gray at that time requested help and indicated that he could not breathe.”
Porter asked Gray if he needed medical assistance.
“Mr. Gray indicated at least twice that he was in need of a medic,” Mosby reported.
Porter helped Gray up onto the bench in the van. The moment arrived when the two cops discussed taking Gray to get medical assistance, the moment that could have changed everything.
Likely, Gray overheard them. He would have had cause to hope that help was finally near at hand.
But then came that police radio call that a cop needed assistance.
“Despite Mr. Gray’s obvious and recognized need for medical assistance, Officer Goodson in a grossly negligent manner chose to respond,” Mosby alleged.
Upon arriving, Goodson opened the back of the van.
“Officer Porter and Officer Goodson observed Mr. Gray unresponsive on the floor of the wagon,” Mosby would report.
By then, Sgt. Alicia White had also arrived.
“Sgt. White who is responsible for investigating two citizen complaints pertaining to Mr. Gray’s illegal arrest spoke to the back of Mr. Gray’s head,” Mosby would say. “When he did not respond, she did nothing further despite the fact that she was advised that he needed a medic. She made no effort to look or assess or determine his condition.”
Mosby would add, “Despite Mr. Gray’s seriously deteriorating medical condition, no medical assistance was rendered or summoned for Mr. Gray at that time by any officer.”
The new prisoner, 22 year-old Donta Allen, was loaded into the other side of the van. The charge against him was so minor that he was transported to the nearest police station for a summons rather than to central booking.
At the station, the other prisoner was escorted inside. The cops only then turned their attention to Gray.
“Mr. Gray was no longer breathing at all,” Mosby said. “A medic was finally called to the scene where upon arrival, the medic determined Mr. Gray was now in cardiac arrest.”.
Gray was rushed to a hospital, where Goodson and Porter had considered taking him before that other call came in.
Now Gray was dead. Baltimore had been wracked by a riot. Fallen Hero Day had been cancelled.
And six cops who might have been honoring comrades who died saving others were instead facing felony charges at the same Central Booking and Intake Facility where Gray was to have been processed.
Goodson was the only cop charged with murder. Porter, Rice and White were charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Nero and Miller were charged with second degree assault, apparently for making the illegal arrest. Their bail was set at $250,000. Bail for the four facing the more serious charges was set at $350,000. They are all scheduled to be in court on May 27 for a preliminary hearing. They are expected to plead not guilty and their union is vehemently insisting they did no wrong.
On this Fallen Hero Day that wasn’t, Mosby addressed the rank and file of the Baltimore Police Department.
“Please know that these accusations of these six officers are not an indictment on the entire force,” she said when announcing the charges.
She added, “I come from five generations of law enforcement. My father was an officer, my mother was an officer, several of my aunts and uncles, my recently departed and beloved grandfather was one of the founding members of the first black police organization in Massachusetts. I can tell you that the actions of these officers will not and should not, in any way, damage the important working relationships between police and prosecutors as we continue to fight together to reduce crime in Baltimore.”
She spoke as if this were a day to honor cops after all.
“Thank you for your courage, commitment and sacrifice for the betterment of the community,” she said.
Mosby also addressed the young people who had filled the streets in the aftermath of Gray’s death.
“To the youth of the city, I will seek justice on your behalf,” she said. “This is a moment. This is your moment. Let’s insure we have peaceful and productive rallies that will develop structural and systemic changes for generations to come. You’re at the forefront of this cause.”
She is just 35 and has been in office for only five months. She included herself as one of them. And it seemed as if there is at least a chance that poor Freddie Gray’s waking nightmare might lead to better days.
“As young people, our time is now,” Mosby the prosecutor said.