DOJ opens probe of police custody death of Freddie Gray

Updated

The Department of Justice on Tuesday opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, the man who was arrested last week and later died as a result of extensive injuries to his spine.

“The Department of Justice has been monitoring the developments in Baltimore, MD, regarding the death of Freddie Gray. Based on preliminary information, the Department of Justice has officially opened this matter and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred,” a DOJ spokesperson said in a statement.

Earlier Tuesday Six Baltimore city police officers who were suspended following Gray’s death were identifiedThe release of the officers’ names comes on the heels of days of protests in the wake of Gray’s death. Gray died on Sunday in a hospital, a week after arriving with a severed spine he reportedly suffered after being chased down and tackled by police.

The officers have been identified by Baltimore police as Lt. Brian Rice, 41, Sgt. Alicia White, 41, and police officers William Porter, 25, Garrett Miller, 26, Edward Nero, 29, and Caesar Goodson, 45.

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Parts of the April 12 arrest were captured by nearby security video as well as cell phone video taken by witnesses, some who have described police slamming Gray to the ground and then dragging him to a police van as he shrieked in pain. Police say officers initially made eye contact with Gray in a known drug area and that he then ran away from a group of officers on bicycles.

The officers eventually took Gray down and cuffed him. According to police, Gray had a knife clipped to his pants, he fled unprovoked and “gave up without the use of force.”

While Gray was being transported in a police van following his arrest, he repeatedly asked for medical assistance and eventually suffered some sort of medical emergency, according to city officials. Gray was transported to a hospital where he died a week later.

Scores of protesters have taken to the streets since Gray’s death to demand answers and that the officers involved in his arrest be held accountable in Gray’s death. Gray’s family and their attorney say there are gaps in the timeline offered by police that may hold the key to the 25-year-old’s death.

“There are lots of mysteries,” Bill Murphy, an attorney for Gray’s family, told msnbc host Tamron Hall on Tuesday afternoon. “One thing is clear. This was a healthy man who died as a result of serious spinal cord injuries and a broken neck. That much is clear,” he said. “What is not clear is how it happened and precisely who did it and when it happened. It’s also clear that the police had no good reason to arrest this man.”

RELATED: Baltimore protests over Freddie Gray’s death

Gray’s death and what many consider the sheer pettiness of the initial arrest, which later proved to be fatal, comes as cases of police violence against African-Americans continues to spark mass outrage and protests. A number of these cases, such as the police chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York last summer who was stopped for selling loose cigarretes, began with a police stop over a minor offense but ended in death. Many of these cases have been captured on video, including the shooting death of Walter Scott who was shot multiple times in the back by a cop in South Carolina earlier this month after being pulled over for a broken taillight. 

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts have promised a thorough investigation and pleaded for calm as demonstrators have marched and chanted through the city this week. Many have expressed their doubts to the veracity of the city’s promise of thoroughness and say that systematic abuse and brutality are ingrained in the Baltimore police force. Since 2011, the police department has doled out nearly $6 million to settle more than 100 lawsuits alleging police brutality and other misconduct, according to the The Baltimore Sun.

“We just don’t honestly have confidence in the city administration or police commissioner Batts based on the track record that has occurred prior to this case,” Sharon Black with Baltimore’s Peoples Power Assembly, a community activist group told msnbc. “And we think the only way there’s going to be real meaningful change is for people to continue pushing and protesting and continuing to be out in the streets and demanding justice and real structural change in the police department.”

Black’s group has organized protests for Gray and has been meeting with the man’s family.

While Gray’s family have largely shied away from doing media interviews, Black said her organization has been in constant contact with them, their neighbors and those who loved Gray.

“This is very difficult time for them. I go out there every day and people are crying in my arms. The family, of course, is completely devastated and distraught but it’s the whole community that has been affected,” Black said.

Gray’s friends and neighbors have described him as a jokester who could bring a bright smile during the cloudiest of days.

“Some people are just so outraged and angry,” Black said. “There’s deep anger but on the other hand there’s deep sorrow. The community is not likely to accept easy answers to this until they feel there’s justice in this case.”

Black said the group is planning ongoing protests and that it is convening a group of private investigators to conduct their own investigation of the case.

In an internal police memo published on Tuesday by The Baltimore Sun, police Commissioner Batts described the ongoing investigation into Gray’s death as complex and has “unveiled policy and procedural deficiencies.”

“We are moving to address these concerns with new policies and new training,” Batts said.  The commissioner also said that he met with the suspended officers involved in Gray’s arrest and that he assured them that the department will “follow the facts wherever they take us.”

“The facts, not emotion, will determine the outcome in this case,” he wrote, adding that the plan is to have the investigation concluded by next Friday at which point the department will hand over its findings to the State’s Attorney’s Office for review.

“We will not jump to conclusions. We will remain transparent with you and the community. This continues to be a difficult time for everyone involved,” Batts said. “I want to urge each of you to not lose focus. We need to continue our fight against crime. Please continue to serve the citizens of our city and continue to look after one another. Have pride in yourself, each other, and this organization as you work to keep the city of Baltimore safe.”

Freddie Gray and Police Brutality

DOJ opens probe of police custody death of Freddie Gray

Updated