The six Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. From left to right, top row: Officer Caesar R. Goodson, Jr.; Officer Garrett E. Miller; Officer Edward M. Nero. Left to right, bottom row: Officer William G. Porter; Lt. Brian W. Rice; and Sgt. Alicia D. White.
Each week, the Watcher's Council hosts a forum as well as a contest for best post among the Council members. This week's forum question, referring to the wrongful death of Freddie Gray, is "what's your reaction to the Baltimore police being criminally charged?" I have been kindly been invited to respond.
Update: The Forum is posted here. I urged you to click on the link and read the various responses.
Here are the facts. On 12 April, Freddie Gray was out in public in Baltimore City when he saw several police officers headed in his direction. He made eye contact with an officer and took off running. That gave the officers probable cause to stop him, though not to arrest. After a chase of over a mile, police caught up with Mr. Gray and tased him. He went to the ground. Mr. Gray had no outstanding criminal warrants nor any record of violence. Police searched him and found a pocket knife. They arrested him for possessing an illegal weapon, but we learn from reports today that the knife was of legal size and type under Maryland law and the arrest was wrongful.
The arrest was filmed from the time Mr. Gray was on the ground after having been handcuffed and searched. The arrest itself and the transportation to the van appear wholly unremarkable. Mr. Gray was calling out as if in some pain every few seconds and he dragged one leg. None of that is atypical during an arrest. There was no brutality involved in the portion of the arrest that was filmed. When the police get him to a police van, he stands on the bumper. That is the end of the film.
Three days prior to the arrest of Mr. Gray, a memo was sent through the Baltimore City Police Department mandating that suspects being placed into the police van be placed in a seat and secured with a seat belt. Mr. Gray was simply lain on the floor of the vehicle. Mr. Gray continued to complain and act agitated while in the van. At some point, and perhaps twice, he requested medical aid, which requests were ignored. Within 30 minutes, Mr. Gray was taken from the van by paramedics where he expired a week later as the result of an 80% severing of his spine at the neck. There were no other injuries to Mr. Gray. As Bookworm Room has pointed out, there is some basis to suspect that Mr. Gray's reported prior exposure to lead may have left him particularly vulnerable to the type of injury that caused his death.
At this point, we are being fed information piecemeal by the Baltimore City Police Department and the District Attorney's office. No statements have been released. The indictments have not been made public. The Medical Examiner's Report has not been made public. There have been witness statements of barbarous treatment of Mr. Gray during the arrest, but based on the video and the fact of what information has been released from the ME, they appear baseless. Nonetheless, Baltimore has seen race riots occur over the past several days. And, at last report, Rev. Al is on his way there for some good old fashioned race based demagoguing.
On 1 May, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that six Baltimore City Police officers have been arrested and charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Of the six officers, three are white, three are black, one is a woman. Two of the officers have been charged with crimes relating to wrongful arrest. Three others have additionally been charged with involuntary manslaughter. The driver of the police van has been charged with second degree murder.
So, on the facts above, what is my reaction to the police being criminally charged?
As a threshold matter, Freddie Gray deserves justice, period. That is beyond question. It will certainly mean civil damages for his death. Whether his death involved criminal wrongdoing such that others deserve punishment is a separate question. Equally, those involved in Freddie Gray's death are entitled to justice. They need to be prosecuted to the degree to which they are culpable, and spared any punishment if they are not.
There is not enough information yet to say for certain if the ends of justice are being served by the arrests of these six officers. My initial reaction, and I dearly hope that I am wrong, is that a lot of this is nothing more than a sacrifice to the racial grievance industry. This is not a planted evidence case, nor a case of brutality by the arresting officers. If they wrongly arrested, that would, in the normal course, be a matter for internal discipline as well as open the officers up to civil suit. But now a wrongful arrest on these facts is being used, in at least three cases, to end careers and criminally prosecute police officers? It appears that all three of them are the white officers, by the way. That seems utterly outrageous just on the facts available. Indeed, it seems a lynching, no less than that which happened to Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson.
Likewise, charging three officers with involuntary manslaughter, just on the known facts and the lack of established policy regarding transport, seems as if it is quite a stretch. It is far less of a stretch to the extent the charge of involuntary manslaughter is based on failing to timely render aid, if such aid was requested and may have in fact saved Mr. Gray's life. But it is not clear which evidence is being relied upon to support each charge against each individual.
Lastly, the driver of the police van, a black officer, has been charged with second degree murder. He, having sole custody of Mr. Gray from the time Mr. Gray was placed in the van until he was removed, injured, by paramedics, is likely at least guilty of involuntary manslaughter. That said, a charge of second degree murder, which requires some degree of intent or extreme recklessness, is likely an overcharge, just on the basis of the known facts.
So my reaction is mixed. At least one of the indictments - and perhaps as many as three - are or may well be warranted based on the available information. Several seem like nothing more than a lynching to satisfy the Al Sharpton wing of the left, who would dearly like to turn this into an indictment of racism and police brutality with which to, somehow, blame the right.
Baltimore City is a model of left wing urban governance and has been a social laboratory for nothing but left wing social policies for the past half century. The fact that Baltimore City, as well as its Police Department, are wholly owned subsidiaries of the left, and indeed, are led by minorities, is meaningless to the developing narrative. Already, Joan Walsh of Salon is tweeting that "there is no debate that tragically, black police officers often absorb the attitudes of their colleagues." Shades of white hispanics. The left will do anything to insure that whatever comes out of the Baltimore riots, it will not be a platform for rational discussion of the problems besetting Baltimore and inner city blacks. And if justice actually occurs in Baltimore -- justice for Freddie Gray as well as the six officers -- I am afraid it will be purely by accident.
Update: Alan Dershowitz shares my concerns that this is, in far too large a measure, a politically motivated prosecution:
Sheriff David Clarke from Milwaukee County, feels likewise:
. . . Clarke said of the charges, “it’s a miscarriage of justice. This neophyte prosecutor stood up there and made a political statement, Neil, and I say that because she’s chanting or voicing some of the chants from this angry mob. Her job is to tune that out. She said, I hear the voices. She’s not supposed to hear anything as she reviews this case that is not consistent with the rule of law and our system of justice. Look, I’m an experienced and a veteran homicide detective. I’ve had — I’ve participated in charging conferences. There is no way I have ever gotten a criminal charge within 24 hours after taking over all the reports and evidence to a prosecutor. A prosecutor who is thorough needs several days to sift through hundreds of pages of reports. They usually want to interview some of the witnesses themselves, in person, and they have to sift through all of the evidence, piece by piece, and they have to wait for some of the forensics evidence to conclude, to come back and that’s why I say on a minimum, three to four days. She just got this case yesterday. This is political activism. She’ll never prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, and I’m not going to silently stand by and watch my brother officers, offered up as human sacrifices, thrown like red meat to an angry mob, just to appease this angry mob.” And that “she rushed this thing through.”
After his interview was cut off to carry a Fraternal Order of Police press conference live, he continued, “she knows she’s not going to be able to prove these charges beyond a reasonable doubt. This is George Zimmerman and the Duke Lacrosse case all over again. A politically active district attorney or state’s attorney, you can tell the emotion in her voice, she almost did this with glee. And that’s why I believe, like they [the FOP] do…she needs to remove herself from the case. I hope the state’s attorney general gets involved in this, and sees the error of her ways. The smart thing for her to do is recuse herself and name a special prosecutor.”
He added that “there may be and probably are, some civil torts here, but what little I know, and I don’t know all the facts, but I’m listening to the emotion in their voice, and listening to those political statements that she made at the end of that news conference, that’s political activism, it’s wrong, it’s probably in violation of her code of ethics as a lawyer. And again, I’m going to take my time with this, but I’m not going to sit idly by, and I want to call out to every law enforcement officer in the country to pay attention to this. Because, I see a pattern, at least demands from an angry mob, that we be offered up as human sacrifices. We don’t do that in our system of justice in the United States just to please an angry mob. And I sense from what I heard her say, Neil, that that’s what is going on here.” . . .