BALTIMORE — Protests continued for a sixth day Thursday over the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who suffered a fatal spine injury while in Baltimore police custody.
In front of City Hall, hundreds of demonstrators surged into the street, blocking traffic and directing their rage toward officers. Police said two demonstrators were arrested Thursday evening for disorderly conduct and destruction of property after a scuffle at Pennsylvania Avenue and Pitcher Street, CBS station WJZ-TV reported.
The march continued to the Western District police station, not far from where Gray was arrested April 12. Police said an officer patrolling an area known for drug activity made eye contact with Gray, who ran.
Several officers caught up with Gray and loaded him into a police van. At some point while in custody, he suffered a spinal injury that led to his death Sunday.
A friend of Gray’s who recorded video of his arrest says police had Gray’s legs bent “like he was a crab or a piece of origami.”
Kevin Moore told The Baltimore Sun in a story posted Thursday that “the police yelled ‘stop resisting,’ but there was no resistance. He couldn’t move.”
The Gray family’s lawyer, Billy Murphy, said “his spine was 80 percent severed” while in custody. It’s not clear whether Gray was injured by officers in the street or while being carried alone in the van’s compartment.
Attorney Michael Davey, a police union lawyer who represents at least one of the officers under investigation, said Thursday that although Gray was handcuffed and put in leg restraints, he was not wearing a seat belt during his trip to the station.
Unbelted detainees have been paralyzed and even killed by rough rides in what used to be called “paddy wagons.” It even has a name: “nickel rides,” referring to cheap amusement park thrills.
Police brutality against prisoners being transported was addressed just six months ago in a plan released by Baltimore officials to reduce this misconduct. Department rules updated nine days before Gray’s arrest clearly state that all detainees shall be strapped in by seat belts or “other authorized restraining devices” for their own safety after arrest.
“Policy is policy, practice is something else,” particularly if a prisoner is combative, Davey told The Associated Press. “It is not always possible or safe for officers to enter the rear of those transport vans that are very small, and this one was very small.”
Assistant Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said Gray was secured by “leg irons” after he became agitated during the trip, but the department hasn’t said whether he was buckled in with a seat belt.
Many in the community are outraged, calling Gray’s death a case of police brutality and even murder.
“Police officers today have become criminals of permission,” Baltimore resident Melissa Ealey told WJZ. “They get paid to be bullies with badges.”
Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts met for the first time Thursday with members of Gray’s family, according to the police department.
On Sunday, Batts said at a City Hall news conference that the family had declined at that point to interact with police. He promised the department would try again during the week to share information with them.
Police tweeted Thursday that the meeting took place with Batts “listening to their pain & expressing his sympathy. He updated them on the investigation.”
Today #PCBatts met with members of the Gray family, listening to their pain & expressing his sympathy. He updated them on the investigation.
— Baltimore Police (@BaltimorePolice) April 23, 2015
Some in Baltimore, including Pastor Charles Neal, said police misconduct has been going on for years. Neal responded directly to a statement issued Wednesday by Fraternal Order of Police President Gene Ryan, in which the police union chief likened demonstrators to a “lynch mob.”
“We are not a lynch mob, we are concerned citizens,” Neal said. “We are concerned about justice in our communities.”
Baltimore City Council President Jack Young told CBS News correspondent Chip Reid police brutality lawsuits have cost the city about $6 million in the last five years, but that the perpetrators are few.
“I don’t want people to think that the whole Baltimore City Police Department is operating that way, because they are not. We have a few bad apples,” Young said. “We need to weed them out and bring them to the full extent of the law, and punish them for what they do.”
Batts said his investigators will turn over their findings by next week, which WJZ legal analyst Byron Warnken called “miracle time in the law enforcement community.”
Warnken told WJZ a separate investigation by the federal Department of Justice brings additional resources to the case, along with more credibility.
“It gives some confidence to the community that some independent body [is] evaluating this and there’s less likely to be a cover up,” Warnken said. “Because many citizens are distrustful of the police and therefore, they would assume that they police would cover up for their own.”
Maryland State Police troopers began assisting Baltimore City police with crowd control Thursday after an offer of help from Gov. Larry Hogan.