Appeal: Freddie Gray, Five Years Later

Aries

Administrator
FREDDIE GRAY, FIVE YEARS LATER
On the anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising protests, new evidence in Gray’s death uncovers suppressed witness accounts of police brutality.


Gray joined a long line of high-profile Black victims of police misconduct, like Walter Scott, who was shot to death by Michael Slager in April 2015 after he fled from Slager during a traffic stop in South Carolina. Like Gray and Garner, a bystander captured the Scott incident on video. Gray quickly became a touchstone for the then-emergent Black Lives Matter movement, but for the public his death has largely remained a mystery.

The Appeal obtained evidence from the discovery file in the criminal case against the officers that, along with the police department’s Internal Affairs investigation, sheds light on what occurred during Gray’s arrest. The evidence includes video and audio interviews conducted by investigators with eyewitnesses, officers, and medics, as well as the police department’s full Internal Affairs investigation.

The new files reveal numerous unreported eyewitness accounts of force by officers, particularly at the van’s second stop. Witnesses told investigators that they saw Gray thrown headfirst into the van at that stop. Several witnesses also described him becoming quiet and motionless at this stop, after screaming loudly for several minutes.

According to the autopsy report, Gray’s fatal injury, usually seen in “shallow water diving incidents,” was caused by a “high-energy” impact of his head against a hard surface.

But the medical examiner testified in court that she relied on the accounts of police officers, who were the primary suspects in the case, to make her conclusions about when and how Gray died. She made no mention of any civilian witnesses to force in her autopsy report or trial testimony. She also said the state’s attorney’s office determined which statements she received.The newly obtained evidence supports and broadens the investigation that journalist Amelia McDonell-Parry and I conducted into Gray’s death for the 2017 podcast “Undisclosed: The Killing of Freddie Gray.”

Several additional witnesses observed stop two from their Gilmor Homes apartments. Sierria Warren, interviewed by detectives outside of her home on the afternoon of Gray’s arrest, described her and her daughter being awakened by Gray’s screams. She heard eyewitnesses accuse the officers of tasing him.

Warren said Gray was lying “on his stomach, face down” when officers shackled his ankles. Then, she said, “they just threw him in back [of] the paddy wagon, like really threw him in the back.” Warren repeated this statement a few times, calling it “aggressive.” She also heard one officer threaten to tase a civilian.

Detectives never asked Warren to come to headquarters to provide a videotaped statement, but notes from the state’s attorney’s office obtained by The Appeal indicate that prosecutors knew about her story. A spokesperson for the state’s attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment from The Appeal.

When the police department officially closed the Gray case in 2017, it released several binders of documents and photographs to the Baltimore Sun in response to a Public Information Act request. (The Sun has since removed the documents from its website.)

The newly obtained evidence reveals that significant pieces of the case were not included in the police’s 2017 release. The binders included official transcripts from officers’ statements but none from any civilian witnesses. Witnesses were reduced to mugshots, criminal histories, and scant notes by investigators. The 2017 release represented the police’s final word on the Gray case, but it mirrored the department’s investigation, which suppressed witness statements and minimized the lived experiences of people in the Gilmor Homes community.



 
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