US drops all charges against police in Freddie Gray death

Angel Selah (left) and local artist PFK Boom gather to remember Freddie Gray and all victims of police violence during a rally outside city hall in Baltimore, Maryland, US, July 27, 2016. — Reuters pic
Angel Selah (left) and local artist PFK Boom gather to remember Freddie Gray and all victims of police violence during a rally outside city hall in Baltimore, Maryland, US, July 27, 2016. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, July 28 — US prosecutors yesterday dropped all remaining charges against police in the death of Freddie Gray, an African American whose fatal injury in custody provoked riots in Baltimore, ending the high-profile case without any convictions.

The lead prosecutor defended efforts to convict six officers on charges ranging from second degree murder to reckless endangerment, but said “reluctance and obvious bias” from individual police officers had undermined the case, making it probable that the three remaining trials would end in acquittal.

The decision from Baltimore’s state prosecutor now makes it unlikely that anyone will be punished for what was one of the most inflammatory deaths of unarmed black men blamed on police, fueling a nationwide protest movement.

“We do not believe that Freddie Gray killed himself,” said state prosecutor Marilyn Mosby. 

“We stand by the medical examiner’s determination that Freddie Gray’s death was a homicide.”

The 25-year-old suffered a severed spine while being transported in the back of a police van, unsecured and with his hands and feet bound, after being arrested on April 12, 2015 while fleeing police.

He died a week later. Police said his death was an accident.

Despite murder, assault, manslaughter and endangerment charges, three officers were acquitted by a judge. A fourth case had initially ended in a hung jury and further scheduled trials will now not happen.

Police investigating other cops was problematic and while the Baltimore police chief had been “extremely accommodating,” Mosby said individual detectives had been “uncooperative” and sought to disprove the state’s case.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump—who has made the defense of the police and armed forces a core part of his campaign—welcomed the decision to drop charges, and lashed out at Mosby.

“I think she ought to prosecute herself,” he said. “I think it was disgraceful what she did, and the way she did it and the news conference that she had where they were guilty before anybody even knew the facts.”

Need for reform

While Mosby said prosecutors had presented “a great deal of evidence” and expressed disappointment with the previous verdicts, she said police reforms would safeguard against anyone else coming else to the same fate.

“In spite of the fact that the verdicts didn’t go in our favor, there have been many gains throughout this journey to ensure that what happened to Freddie Gray never happens to another person,” she added.

Reforms require Baltimore officers to wear body cameras, use seatbelts when transporting detainees, install cameras in police wagons and make it mandatory for officers to call a medic when requested, she said.

“Every battle, every hurdle, every obstacle that we’ve overcome since the pursuit of these cases has brought us one step closer to equality,” she said.

“This system is in need of reform,” she said. 

“We will fight for a fair and equitable justice system for all so that whatever happened to Freddie Gray never happens to another person in this community again.”

Officer Garrett Miller had been the next to face trial for assault, misconduct and endangerment when the charges were dropped in a hearing on Wednesday.

The development comes with the United States reeling from a series of new deaths of black men at the hands of police, as well as reprisal killings of police.

Five officers were shot dead in Dallas on July 7 and three others were killed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on July 17.

The Louisiana shooting, by a black Iraq veteran, took place in a city scarred by racial tensions and protests after the July 5 death of Alton Sterling, a black man shot at point-blank range by two white Baton Rouge police officers.

London-based Amnesty International called on Baltimore police to exercise restraint during protests, which erupted after Gray’s death last year.

“In too many cases, state laws governing the use of lethal force are overly broad and unclear,” the rights organization said at the time.

“There must be a statewide review of police policies to ensure that cases like Freddie Gray’s will not be repeated.” — Reuters 

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