Freddie Gray Was Not Put in Seatbelt During Fatal Arrest

Human Rights

Freddie Gray had no seatbelt on in the police van where he was placed in handcuffs and later put in leg irons, police said as they confirmed the possible breach of protocol forms part of their investigation into his death.

Protesters have marched in West Baltimore for the fifth night in a row following the death in custody of 25-year-old Gray. Despite two arrests, tensions seemed to have eased on Thursday night compared with the previous demonstrations.

Six officers involved in the incident have been suspended. On Thursday an attorney working for the officers said he did not believe Gray had been wearing a seatbelt when he was placed in the van.

Baltimore police confirmed on Thursday it was policy to provide proper seatbelts during the transport of prisoners but declined to release photographs from inside the van carrying Gray.

Gray was not belted in, said attorney Michael Davey, who represents at least one of the officers under investigation. But he took issue with the rules. “Policy is policy, practice is something else,” particularly if a prisoner was 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.”

Commissioner Anthony Batts said there were no circumstances under which a prisoner should not be wearing a seatbelt during transport. “He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt and that’s part of our investigation,” Batts told the Associated Press.

On Thursday, a group of up to 200 marchers set off from Baltimore’s City Hall, which was heavily guarded by police. The Baltimore transport department had advised those working in the city centre to leave before 3pm ahead of the protests. Protesters only briefly shut down intersections and remained peaceful as they marched through the opulent Inner Harbor area and towards the Western District police station several miles away.

Two were arrested for disorderly conduct and destruction of property, before the marchers met with another group outside the police station a few blocks from the site of Gray’s arrest on 12 April. The 25-year-old died on Sunday after his neck was broken at some point in the immediate aftermath of the arrest.

Eyewitness video showed at least one of Gray’s legs hanging limp as he was placed in a police van during after his arrest. Gray asked for an asthma inhaler two minutes after he was apprehended and senior officials have acknowledged a delay in providing medical assistance. The van stopped twice: once so Gray could be placed in leg shackles and a second time to pick up a second prisoner, before medical assistance was called for, around half an hour after the arrest.

Batts also said another man who was in the van during the tail end of Gray’s ride told investigators that Gray was “was still moving around, that he was kicking and making noises”, up until the van arrived at the station.

But Batts was careful to say that the investigation includes “everything the officers did that day”.

At the Western District police station on Thursday, protesters were met by a long line of officers two deep and fences encircling the perimeter of the building. Barricades that on Wednesday night kept the protesters from crossing the street to the station were gone.

One or two bottles were thrown at police before protesters shouted: “Don’t throw anything, don’t throw anything.” Maryland state police were also present as reinforcements at the initial stage of the march.

Donald Smith, 29, a local resident and hospital worker, arrived at the protests clutching a copy of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. “It’s going on today – if they’re not incarcerating us they’re killing us. This goes back to the Jim Crow era.

“What you see out here is real,” he said, pointing to the assembled crowds. “We’ve been dealing with it for hundreds of years.”

John Goins, 57, stood close to the police line and said: “Most of the Baltimorepolice officers are not from here. They’re from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. They don’t recruit from this city because they don’t want the people who live here to be part of it.”

Goins, a retired corrections officer, said that while still working he was once beaten by a police officer when walking home from work out of uniform. His grandson Darion, 13, added: “They beat me, too, when I was 12 years old. I was just riding my bike.”

Damien Jones, 22, said he had been out every night since Gray died. He knew him for 10 years and lives in the Gilmor public housing project, which is on the corner of the street where Gray was taken into custody.

“I want justice for Freddie. Prosecute all the police officers. All six. We’ll be here all night and all day,” he said.

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