Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
Before the second prisoner was even in the police van, Freddie Gray asked the police for medical assistance.
So you have to wonder why on earth a man who had just asked for help would then try to hurt himself—as the second prisoner supposedly told a Baltimore homicide detective after he was picked up at the next stop a few minutes later.
The opinion of the second prisoner is reportedly contained in a search-warrant application prepared by a police investigator and now leaked to The Washington Post.
A man who apparently is the second prisoner, 22-year-old Donta Allen, has since told a Baltimore TV station that all he really heard was only “a little banging, just a little banging.” Allen acknowledged that he did speak to a homicide detective and he may have offered a different account.
WBAL-TV also reports that the medical examiner found no injuries to Gray consistent with him having banged his head with any significant force.
And numerous doctors have said that the injuries Gray did have—including almost snapping his spine at the neck—indicated more trauma than he likely could have inflicted on himself.
All that aside, somebody leaked the sealed search warrant for a reason, just as the police were preparing to turn over the results of their investigation to the Baltimore state’s attorney. There is nothing to stop the Baltimore Police Department from also publicly disclosing its major findings, as it largely did after its initial investigation soon after Gray’s death. The only significant detail the BPD added on Thursday while announcing its probe was complete was that private security video indicated the van had made an additional, previously unreported stop.
But what the police have already disclosed is enough to suggest that even if the second prisoner actually did believe that Gray was trying to hurt himself, he almost certainly was mistaken.
After the stop where Gray asked for medical assistance and medical assistance was denied to him, any banging he did that was not the result of some kind of seizure almost certainly would have been an effort to resume expressing his need for help by the only means available—by banging on the inside of the van.
Gray even may have imagined that the police were heeding him when the van stopped again a few minutes later.
Imagine his desperation when he realized that the van had stopped only to pick up another prisoner. Gray’s resumed banging must have been all the more insistent, all the more frantic.
By both accounts, Allen never actually saw Gray, only heard him, as the two were separated by a metal partition.
Gray resumed banging, loud enough for Allen to think he was trying to hurt himself if you go by the leaked document—or just a little if you go by Allen’s account to a TV reporter.
If the leaked document’s account is right, the banging must have been pretty frantic indeed.
More likely, what this account reports as the sound of Gray seeking to do himself serious harm actually would have been a renewed plea for assistance.
Gray had learned at the time of his arrest that the police seemed deaf to his cries of pain.
All Gray could do once he was locked inside the van was bang on the interior. And that banging apparently was what prompted the police to make three prior stops.
At the first, the police found Gray to be “irate” and “combative.” He also may have been thrashing in distress or suffering some kind of seizure. They then placed him in leg irons.
Gray also could have simply been frantic, and he had kept banging loud enough for the police to stop a second time five minutes later, and call for a cop to check on him in the back.
The purpose of that banging seems to have been made clear when Gray asked for medical assistance.
The police response was apparently limited to lifting him off the floor of the van where he had apparently fallen and returning him to the bench.
The van then rode on with Gray continuing to signal his distress, along that way making a third stop for reasons the BPD has not disclosed or simply not yet determined. He most likely thought that his banging was prompting a fourth stop when the van again pulled over, and that medical assistance might be near.
But all that happened was, Allen was loaded aboard, unseen and unseeing on the left side of the metal partition. Gray was on the right side, now either so weakened that he made just “a little banging” or so desperate in his banging for help that he sounded as if he was trying to injure himself.
Just six blocks later, the van arrived at the police station. The banging ceased, but not because Gray believed that he was getting help. It stopped because he was unconscious.
“Mr. Gray, Mr. Gray,” a cop said, by Allen’s account to the TV station.
Medical assistance finally came in the person of paramedics who transported him to a shock trauma hospital, where he later died.
Now it is up to the authorities to tell us what they know before leakers manage to deflect us from the full truth.
At least we already know enough to reach a conclusion: If it sounded like Gray sought to injure himself in that van, it was after he had been making those very same sounds to signal he needed help.
And whether it was desperate banging or just a little banging that Allen heard, it was the banging of a man who was just six blocks away from being beyond all help.