Washington Post reports that Freddie Gray was trying to hurt himself in police van
Did Freddie Gray throw himself against the walls of the police van carrying him in an attempt to be taken to a hospital instead of jail, after officers dismissed his claim to be injured? That is the implication of a document provided to Washington Post reporter Peter Hermann by an anonymous source.
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The document was written by a Baltimore police investigator, part of an affidavit for a warrant seeking the seizure of a uniform worn by one of the officers involved in arresting Gray. As such, it is sworn testimony under the penalty of perjury. But as Paul Mirengoff of Powerline notes, it is not clear if the words of the affidavit are from the other suspect, or from a police officer reporting the suspect’s words.
The name of the suspect making the allegation has been withheld, for obvious reasons given the heat of the demonstrations underway. The name of the officer providing the document to the Post has also not been released.
It seems implausible at first that a suspect could injure himself so severely, but we do not know if Gray was under the influence of drugs, for instance PCP. And given that he was not belted in, though in shackles, he could have thrown himself against a wall as the van turned, and potentially compromised his spine by landing in a way that severely stressed the spinal cord.
Gray also received rough treatment during his arrest:
Video shot by several bystanders has fueled the rage in West Baltimore. It shows two officers on top of Gray, their knees in his back, and then dragging his seemingly limp body to the van as he cried out.
[Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony] Batts has said Gray stood on one leg and climbed into the van on his own.
Because Gray was found in possession of a switchblade knife, if he had been resisting arrest, then knees on the back would not be unusual simply to protect the officers from injury. That could well have damaged his spine.
As for the charge that officers ignored police department policy requiring prisoners be belted in during a van ride:
… the president of the Baltimore police union noted that the policy mandating seat belts took effect April 3 and was e-mailed to officers as part of a package of five policy changes on April 9, three days before Gray was arrested.
Gene Ryan, the police union president, said many officers aren’t reading the new policies – updated to meet new national standards – because they think they’re the same rules they already know, with only cosmetic changes. The updates are supposed to be read out during pre-shift meetings.
The previous policy was written in 1997, when the department used smaller, boxier wagons that officers called “ice cream trucks.” They originally had a metal bar that prisoners had to hold during the ride. Seat belts were added later, but the policy left their use discretionary.
Needless to say, the forces that have been criticizing the Baltimore Police do not welcome this report. They are heavily invested in a narrative of police misconduct. And they may be correct, though the evidence is not in, and the release of an official investigation has still not happened. But, should the report be true and verified, you can count on protesters citing a “larger truth.”
Whatever the facts turn out to be, the City of Baltimore's government, an entirely Democratic Party-controlled affair dominated by African-Americans, has behaved with stunning incompetence. Attempts to blame white racism for the problem are reduced to abstractions about systemic and contextual factors. But that will not stop demonstrators any more than this report will.