Saturday, May 02, 2015

6 Baltimore Police Officers Charged in Freddie Gray Death

As repeated news stories from around the country demonstrate, America has a real problem with police brutality.  Even worse, young black males seem to be disproportionately killed in circumstances that raise serious questions as to the validity of claims that they acted out of fear for their lives.  A discussion is badly needed to face the reality that while there are many good police officers - the vast majority - there are bad apples who have no business wearing a badge and carrying a gun.  There should be no room for prejudice and bigotry, yet it continues to exist (yes, and there is lots of homophobia too as I found out personally back in 2003 when Wayne Besen and I were stopped and some Norfolk cops who seemingly got their laughs but tormenting some "faggots" - internal affairs work diligently to protect the officers after I filed a complaint).  After riots and unrest, six officers have now been arrested in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray.  Whether they will be convicted, will be another story. Here are highlights from the New York Times:
Baltimore’s chief prosecutor charged six police officers on Friday with a range of crimes including murder and manslaughter in the arrest and fatal injury of Freddie Gray, a striking and surprisingly swift turn in a case that has drawn national attention to police conduct.

The state’s attorney for Baltimore City, Marilyn J. Mosby, filed the charges almost as soon as she received a medical examiner’s report that ruled Mr. Gray’s death a homicide, and a day after the police concluded their initial investigation and handed over their findings. Officials had cautioned that it could take considerable time for her office to complete its own investigation and decide whether to prosecute.

The most serious charges were brought against Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who was driving the van that carried Mr. Gray to a police station after his April 12 arrest. Along with involuntary manslaughter, Officer Goodson, 45, was charged with “second-degree depraved heart murder,” which means indifference to human life.

All six officers were arrested and appeared before a judicial officer. Bail was set at $350,000 for four of the officers and $250,000 for the other two, according to court records. By late Friday, court records showed the officers had been released from jail.

The death of Mr. Gray, 25, a week after he suffered a spinal cord injury brought to a boil long-simmering tensions between the police and poor neighborhoods in this majority-black city, culminating in rioting and looting on Monday. More peaceful demonstrations continued through the week after a curfew was put in place. And the swift action by the prosecutor seemed to some to mark a turning point after months of debate and demonstrations around the country over police violence.

The Baltimore chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police called the speed of the prosecutor politically motivated. “The actions taken today by the state’s attorney are an egregious rush to judgment,” said Michael E. Davey, the union’s lawyer. “We believe that these officers will be vindicated, as they have done nothing wrong.”

Ms. Mosby faulted the police conduct at every turn. The officers who arrested him “failed to establish probable cause for Mr. Gray’s arrest, as no crime had been committed,” she said, describing the arrest as illegal. Officers accused him of possession of a switchblade, but Ms. Mosby said, “The knife was not a switchblade and is lawful under Maryland law.”

Mr. Gray’s condition deteriorated, she said, as officers repeatedly ignored his pleas for medical attention and ignored obvious signs that he was in distress. At one point, she said, when officers tried to check on him, Mr. Gray was unresponsive, yet no action was taken. He died of his injuries a week later.

A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer who handles police brutality cases in Baltimore — and worked to help elect Ms. Mosby — said her emphasis on the officers’ lack of probable cause in arresting Mr. Gray was significant. Rarely, he said, are police officers prosecuted for making false arrests — and too often, they do not worry about lacking probable cause.

He called the charges of false imprisonment “something new for police activity, which offends the constitutional rights of citizens.”

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