Baltimore police acknowledge mistakes in Freddie Gray's death

Baltimore's top cop: Police 'failed' in the arrest of Freddie Gray.

As Baltimore officials braced for large-scale protests Saturday over of the death of Freddie Gray, top police brass acknowledged that officers made mistakes during the arrest that ended with his slipping into a coma and dying a week later.

At a news conference Friday at police headquarters, Commissioner Anthony W. Batts said protesters have a right to speak out, but he urged them to remain nonviolent. He also provided an update on the investigation, saying that officers violated department policies while Gray was in their custody.

Police said Gray, who was dragged by officers to a transport wagon, should have gotten immediate medical attention. Batts said the department is investigating whether Gray's injuries resulted from his arrest or a "rough ride" — in which police vans are driven erratically to harm unbuckled, handcuffed detainees. Batts said Gray could have sustained injuries during arrest and transport.

"We know he was not buckled in the transportation wagon as he should have been. No excuses from me. Period," Batts said. "We know our police employees failed to get him medical attention in a timely manner multiple times."

Batts and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake addressed the news media Friday as several groups criticized the city's response to the incident.

The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Baltimore called on Batts to resign, and the Maryland branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups asked Gov. Larry Hogan to convene a special session of the General Assembly to address the fractured relationship between Baltimore residents and the Police Department.

The Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr., head of the coalition of Baltimore ministers, said the city's Police Department is "in disarray." He said Batts has shown a "lack of viable leadership capabilities" and should "tender his resignation immediately."

"We can no longer distinguish who is in charge of the Police Department's day-to-day operations," Gwynn said. "It seems that no one in the Police Department can explain what happened."

Batts fired back, saying he has overhauled the Police Department in his two-year tenure, firing bad cops while reducing police misconduct complaints and lawsuits.

"That's not going to happen," Batts said in response to calls for his resignation. "I have been a reform commissioner."

Rawlings-Blake defended Batts' job performance, noting that clergy she met with Friday did not share the belief that he should resign. Still, she expressed frustration with the officers involved in Gray's arrest.

"I want to know why the policies and procedures for training were not followed," Rawlings-Blake said. "I still want to know why none of the officers called for immediate medical assistance despite Mr. Gray's apparent pleas. ... I know this is unacceptable and I want answers."

Protests in Baltimore continued Friday for the sixth day since Gray's death. Dozens of University of Maryland law school students marched downtown with signs that read "Black Lives Matter," and dozens of protesters marched to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Police and city leaders said they were preparing for a much larger demonstration at 3 p.m. Saturday during which a "wave will roll downtown to City Hall" from the scene of Gray's arrest at Gilmor Homes, organizers that included the Nation of Islam predicted.

Malik Z. Shabazz of the Washington-based Black Lawyers for Justice, another organizer, appeared at Baltimore's Western District police station Friday to announce plans for the protest. Echoing a sentiment expressed by other activists, the former national chairman of the New Black Panther Party demanded that the officers involved in Gray's arrest be arrested and charged.

"There will be some thousands in the streets this Saturday demanding justice," Shabazz said. The goal is to "shut this city down on Saturday."

"It cannot be business as usual on Saturday in Baltimore," he said. "It cannot be business as usual with that man's spine broken, back broken with no justice on the scene. Baltimore cannot go along as usual on Saturday. Business has to be changed."

Deputy Police Commissioner Dean Palmere said residents should "expect traffic delays throughout the city," but officials said they would accommodate the protesters.

"We will protect the constitutional right for people to demonstrate," he said.

Gray's death — and the fact that a full accounting of the incident has yet to be aired — have heightened tensions in a city that is grappling with police brutality allegations and racial issues. The U.S. Justice Department, which is investigating Gray's death, was already in Baltimore to review brutality and other police misconduct allegations following a Baltimore Sun investigation.

Gray, 25, suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody April 12. He died seven days later.

One witness, Kevin Moore, 28, told The Sun that he ran out of his home when he heard screaming to find Gray handcuffed and facedown on the ground with one Baltimore bicycle police officer's knee on his neck and another bicycle officer bending his legs backward so that Gray's heels were in his back.

Moore said his friend was "screaming for his life."

"They had him folded up like he was a crab or a piece of origami. He was all bent up," Moore said. "He said, 'I can't breathe. I need a pump,' and they ignored him. ... The police yelled, 'Stop resisting,' but there was no resistance. He couldn't move."

Police have confirmed that Gray asked for an inhaler for asthma, but officers did not have one at the scene. He did not receive medical assistance for about 45 minutes after his arrest.

Officer Garrett Miller wrote in court documents that Gray was stopped because he "fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence." When officers caught him, they found a knife clipped to the inside of his front pants pocket and placed him under arrest.

Miller wrote that the defendant was arrested "without force or incident" and suffered "a medical emergency" during transport.

The police van stopped three times before arriving at the Western District station. Police said officers first stopped to put leg irons on Gray. Witnesses have told The Sun that officers roughed up Gray at that point, an account that police have disputed.

Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Friday that the second stop at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street was "to deal with" Gray. "The facts of that interaction are under investigation," he said.

At the third stop, officers picked up another detainee.

Hundreds have taken to Baltimore's streets to protest for nearly a week. But some local leaders say they're worried about the impact of out-of-town activists who are expected to come to Baltimore on Saturday.

Rawlings-Blake and two dozen clergy members and community leaders from Baltimore held a news conference Friday and pleaded for outsiders to behave peacefully while here.

"Because Baltimore has a strong community, we don't need help from outside of our city and state to deal with this," said the Rev. Frank M. Reid of Bethel AME Church.

"As you can see, there have been protests that have been very peaceful. We're all working to get justice for Freddie Gray's family," Reid said. "As a city, we are well capable to make sure justice is done."

Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said she has been in contact with Gray's family and they do not want to see violent protests.

"Rallying and demanding of respect for Freddie Gray is what the family wants," she said. "As people proceed with rallying and coming to Baltimore, we do not need outside forces to come in and try to act other ways. We do not need anyone coming in bullying our community."

Five of the six officers involved in Gray's arrest have provided statements to Baltimore police; they are on paid leave.

Gene Ryan, president of the local police union, has expressed sympathy for Gray's family but drew outrage by comparing protesters to a "lynch mob" because they called for the officers involved to be jailed immediately.

Batts said Friday that he has ramped up a "massive investigation," led by Davis, with more than 30 people searching for evidence. He said doctors from the state medical examiner's office were still conducting toxicology reports and analyzing the damage to Gray's spine.

As part of the investigation, Davis said, he had walked the scene of Gray's arrest Thursday. He suggested that the officers should never have dragged Gray by the arms into the police van.

"That's where the apprehension of Freddie Gray occurred and, quite frankly, that's exactly where Freddie Gray should have received medical attention," Davis said. "And he did not."

Baltimore Sun reporters Jessica Anderson, Joe Burris, Catherine Rentz, Erin Cox, Scott Dance and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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