Skip to content

Will Charges Against 6 Baltimore Police Bring Justice?

Above: A woman runs for safety as police throw tear gas canisters while enforcing curfew, Tuesday, April 28, 2015, in Baltimore, a day after unrest that occurred following Freddie Gray’s funeral.

A comparison of the charges leveled against the Baltimore police actors in the death of Freddie Gray, as well as police and court treatment of protesters, journalists and medics alike, reveal a range of injustices. But is there time still to right these wrongs?

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s announcement that the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray were being charged brought cheers and celebratory honking of horns.

On closer inspection, however, there are important questions as to whether the arresting officers who began the process that led to Gray’s death were charged with an adequately serious offense. Indeed, if it had not been for the illegal arrest and the damage they did to Gray before the van ride, Gray would not have died. Further, comparing how the police were treated with how protesters were treated shows further injustice and prompts questions about amnesty for all those arrested during the protests.

Why weren’t the white arresting officers charged more severely?

The six police officers were all charged with various crimes. The most serious charge, second degree depraved heart murder, went to Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police van. In her announcement of the charges, State’s Attorney Mosby barely mentioned the arrest and brutal violence against Freddie Gray by the arresting officers. Instead, Mosby focused on the van ride.

The three arresting officers, who are all Caucasian, had no probable cause to chase or arrest Gray. Mosby acknowledged this in her comments on the charges. Witnesses saw Gray being abused and manhandled by police during his arrest. The Baltimore Sun reports:

“Kevin Moore, a 28-year-old friend of Gray’s from Gilmor Homes, said he rushed outside when he heard Gray was being arrested and saw him ‘screaming for his life’ with his face planted on the ground. One officer had his knee on Gray’s neck, Moore said, and another was bending his legs backward.

‘They had him folded up like he was a crab or a piece of origami,’ Moore said. ‘He was all bent up.’”

The three white arresting police officers held him in “a pretzel” position, with one of their knees on Gray’s neck. One witness says Gray screamed: “You’re hurting my neck! You’re hurting my neck! Get your knee out my back!” Police reportedly responded: “Shut the fuck up.”

Witness to Freddie Gray murder
The police twisting Gray into a pretzel while holding him down on his neck very likely fractured his spine, and their failure to listen to Gray’s cries of pain moves their actions from negligent to grossly negligent, sufficient to prove second degree depraved heart murder.

Join us in calling for the State’s Attorney to amend the charges against the arresting officers to be consistent with their more serious actions in the killing of Fredie Gray.

Another witness, Michael Robertson, 27, told the Sun Gray ran because he “had a history with that police beating him.” This is consistent with how the Baltimore police operate: There were 3,048 misconduct complaints against officers from 2012 through July 2014, and more than 1,200 have been sustained by government investigations, according to a September expose by the Sun on the brutal among Baltimore police.

Video of Gray being brought to and put in the police van shows him unable to move his legs, and he appears to be in severe pain before being put in the van:

Another onlooker’s video shows Gray’s legs are limp, and he is shouting in serious pain:

In this video taken from another angle, Gray appears incapacitated and in pain. The person filming thinks Gray’s legs are broken because he is unable to use them:

Yet Mosby did not mention most of these facts in her announcement of the officers being charged, and the arresting police were not charged as severely as the driver of the van. This may be a grave miscalculation, as the defense lawyer for the van driver could easily produce these videos and witnesses and tell the jury that the prosecutor is not telling the whole story. Indeed, expert witnesses will testify that the van ride alone could not have broken Gray’s neck and crushed his voice box, and therefore, the driver’s defense team will be able to argue their client did not kill Gray.

This is not to say the van driver and team shouldn’t also be charged with murder. At best, they were criminally negligent, and at worst, they intentionally drove Gray around in a van for 40 minutes, when the police station was only four blocks and a few minutes away, in a “rough ride” intended to injure him. Further, a witness,Tobias Sellers, reports that at the first van stop the officers “were taking their black batons, whatever they are, and hitting him.” The van driver, Caesar Goodson, is charged with the most serious offense — second degree depraved heart murder, which carries a 30-year sentence.

The arresting officers include Lt. Brian Rice, the most senior officer of the six. Rice had been disciplined twicefor incidents, including issuing death threats, and had his guns confiscated.

The two other arresting officers were Edward Nero and Garrett Miller. All three are white and live outside of Baltimore City. All three are charged with less serious offenses than Goodson. The most serious charges against Rice are involuntary manslaughter and second degree assault — each a potential ten-year sentence. Nero and Miller’s most serious charge is second degree assault — a potential ten-year sentence. These three officers, who illegally arrested Gray and then beat and hogtied him, may have been more directly responsible for his death than Goodson and the two others on the van team — all of whom are black.

Inconsistent justice

A comparison of the bail and charges against the six police who murdered Freddie Gray shows the consistent injustice in Baltimore when applied to police, prosecutors and judgesThe Washington Post points out:

“Among the economic disparities brought to light by protests in Baltimore last week, one was a number: $500,000. That was the bail set for a protester who turned himself in, and his family had no way to pay it (an online fundraising drive has raised just over $6,000). Meanwhile, all six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray on Friday faced bail amounts of $350,000 or less, which they were able to post for their release.”

Bail is supposed to be used to ensure a person returns to court. Why would bail be set at $500,000 for an 18-year-old who turned himself in? He should have been released on his personal recognizance, as turning oneself in shows one is not likely to flee. Yet 18-year-old Allen Bullock remains in jail.

Bullock was captured on film allegedly using a traffic cone to vandalize an unmarked police car. He faces eight criminal charges — all misdemeanors — including rioting and malicious destruction of property. Rioting in Maryland carries a maximum sentence of life, according to state sentencing guidelines.

The treatment of protesters represents an injustice. Gov. Larry Hogan suspended the requirement that people arrested be seen by a court within 24 hours. Maryland law states: “The defendant shall be taken before a judicial officer of the District Court without unnecessary delay and in no event later than 24 hours after arrest.” Even though the statute is nondiscretionary, saying the state “shall” go before a commissioner within 24 hours, Hogan’s decision was upheld by a court.

Hundreds of protesters were held without bond for more than 24 hours, and more than 100 were released without ever being charged. The arrests included reporters, who were arrested for unknown reasons or on invented charges and mistreated in jail, as well as medics and legal observers. They were held in extremely cramped, unsanitary conditions, and some who had been injured during their arrest were denied medical care. Prisoners used their dinner, four pieces of bread, as pillows to avoid putting their heads on dirty floors.  People held without a bail hearing and then released without charges have grounds for a civil rights suit for their incarceration.

Those who were charged received exorbitant bails of $100,000 or more. The majority were given cash-only bails, which they could not pay. The protesters appeared before Judge Flynn Owens from the Baltimore City Detention Center via videolink. Public defenders argued for lower bail, but Owens often set bail even higher than the prosecutor was seeking. Join us in calling for amnesty for all those arrested in the protests for justice in Freddie Gray’s murder.

Meanwhile, the police accused of murdering Gray were “booked in an ‘expedited’ manner” and out of the prison system in less than six hours.

The Washington Post reports that bail is indeed a widespread problem in Baltimore:

“It’s a familiar story in Baltimore, where 87 percent of inmates at the jail are there pretrial. Twenty-nine percent of those have actually been deemed likely to show up in court. Nationally, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 62 percent of the U.S. jail population — there are about 750,000 inmates at any given time — has not been convicted of a crime. Many of them aren’t a danger to society. They just can’t afford to post bail. And those weeks or months of incarceration can wreak havoc on their lives, as jobs are lost, children neglected and cars repossessed.”

Abusive bail is used as a form of punishment in Baltimore, high bails are like a presumption of guilt. Bail is terribly handled in Baltimore, with significant racial disparities, Think Progress puts the racism of bail in national perspective:

“The problem of racial or ethnic minorities being hit with higher bail amounts than their white counterparts is also well documented. The Sentencing Project pointed out in a report released last year that ‘blacks and Latinos are more likely than whites to be denied bail or to be imposed a bond that they cannot afford’ and that they are more often considered ‘flight risks because of their lower socioeconomic status, criminal records, and because of their race.’”

The justice system in Baltimore should not be punishing people who stood up for justice trying to fix a broken police department that has been committing violence against black communities for decades.

If a country truly believed in freedom of speech and the right to assembly, there would be amnesty for all the protesters who were arrested. They should have their records cleansed, the arrests should never have occurred and there should be no record of them. There is a human right to resist injustice that should be respected.

As for the case of Freddie Gray, State’s Attorney Mosby still has a chance to amend the charges against the officers involved in his arrest or bring the case before a grand jury and seek an additional charge of second degree murder against the three arresting officers. Prosecutors have 30 days from the filing of the charges to seek an indictment from a grand jury. A grand jury indictment will strengthen the case going forward and an indictment that recognizes the cause of Gray’s death as the police illegally chasing and arresting him without probable cause, as well as the violence against him by those arresting before he was put in the van.

Actions you can take:

Join us in calling for amnesty for all those arrested in the protests for justice in Freddie Gray’s murder.

Join us in calling for the State’s Attorney to amend the charges against the arresting officers to be consistent with their more serious actions in the killing of Fredie Gray.

Kevin Zeese is an attorney, who is co-director of Popular Resistance and the Green Shadow Cabinet attorney general.