The Justice Department announced Monday it will not bring federal charges against six Baltimore police officers who were involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray, a black man who died after suffering injuries in the back of a police van.
After concluding what the Justice Department called “an extensive review,” federal prosecutors determined that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the six officers willfully violated Gray’s civil rights. Gray’s neck was broken as he rode in the back of a police van following a 2015 arrest. He had been handcuffed and shackled, but his seat belt was not fastened.
“Prosecutors considered multiple theories of liability, based on multiple constitutional provisions, including theories of false arrest, excessive force, and deliberate indifference to the risk of serious harm to Gray,” read a statement from the Justice Department on the decision. “Although Gray’s death is undeniably tragic, the evidence in this case is insufficient to meet these substantial evidentiary requirements.”
The six officers involved in his arrest and transport had faced state charges. But after three of the officers were acquitted at trial, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby dropped the remaining cases.
Gray’s death set off a wave of riots in Baltimore, and led to an Obama-era Justice Department review that found a widespread pattern of abuse and misconduct by the Baltimore Police Department. The DOJ’s report found officers unconstitutionally stopped and searched residents, disproportionately targeted black residents and frequently resorted to physical force during interactions that didn’t warrant it.
Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions took over in January, the Justice Department has opted for a less hands-on approach to dealing with oversight of troubled law enforcement agencies. Though federal and city authorities had agreed to a court-stipulated police reform agreement, known as a consent decree, in the waning days of the Obama administration, Mr. Sessions’ department tried to pull back from that agreement. A federal judge went ahead and approved the consent decree anyhow in April.
Now that the officers are clear of criminal charges, five of the six will face internal disciplinary hearings. Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White and officers Caesar Goodson, Edward Nero and Garrett Miller are all set for hearings scheduled to begin Oct. 30. The sixth officer, William Porter, was not administratively charged.
According to the DOJ statement on the federal investigation, prosecutors declined to bring charges of a false arrest because they could not disprove officers’ statements about the events leading to Gray’s arrest. Officers said Gray ran from officers after making eye contact. Officers pursued him because the area was known for drug sales, giving them reasonable suspicion to detain him. Once stopped, police found an illegal knife in Gray’s possession, and they arrested him.
The DOJ rejected any unreasonable use of force charges, noting that the doctor who performed Gray’s autopsy said there was “no medical evidence indicating that Gray’s injuries were caused by excessive force during the arrest” and there was also no medical or physical evidence that officers used a Taser on Gray.
Also reviewed was whether officers gave Gray a “rough ride” in the back of the police van or whether officers’ failure to secure him with a seat belt constituted deliberate indifference to the serious risk of harm to Gray.
“There is no evidence that Officer Goodson harbored any animus toward Gray or desired to harm him,” said the DOJ statement. “Goodson’s failure to seat belt Gray, without more, does not prove intent to harm. The evidence cannot disprove exculpatory explanations for failing to seat belt Gray, explanations having nothing to do with intent to harm.”
The Justice Department explanation on the Gray case states that the department “remains committed to investigating allegations of excessive force by law enforcement officers” and indicates that officials will continue to devote resources toward ensuring allegations of civil rights abuses are investigated.
“The Department aggressively prosecutes criminal civil rights violations whenever there is sufficient evidence to do so,” the statement said.
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