Commissioner dismisses administrative charges against last officer facing discipline in Freddie Gray case

Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis dismissed all administrative charges against the last officer facing discipline in the Freddie Gray case on Wednesday, meaning all six officers who were accused in the arrest and death of the 25-year-old two years ago will keep their jobs.

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said Sgt. Alicia White, who faced charges that could have resulted in termination, would face no further administrative actions. Two other officers have been acquitted of administrative charges by police trial boards.

Davis “feels proceeding with this administrative hearing would not be in good faith, and has dismissed the charges,” Smith said.

The dismissal of the charges on the eve of Thanksgiving brought a quiet end to efforts to hold police officers accountable in a case that has gripped the city since Gray’s death in 2015. State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby brought criminal charges against six officers, but won no convictions. Federal authorities declined to bring charges.

The police department then brought administrative charges against five officers. Two pleaded guilty, accepted discipline and are back at work. Two were cleared by trial boards, and White will not face a board.

White’s attorney, Tony Garcia, said White was “grateful” for the decision.

“She has always maintained her innocence from the very beginning,” Garcia said. “I think that whenever someone dies, they wish they could do the whole thing over so it didn’t happen. But she doesn’t feel she did something wrong.”

William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., an attorney for Gray’s family, declined to comment.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “this final decision places Baltimore at a moral crossroads.”

“A young man entered the custody of police and within an hour his spine was broken, his voice box crushed,” she said. “Our city has been defined by this. Now Baltimore must decide how to go forward. Baltimore must commit itself to whatever changes to policing, to internal police discipline, to our legal system are needed to ensure that this cannot happen with impunity ever again.”

The Fraternal Order of Police union said “the evidence shows that what happened to Mr. Gray was a tragic and unintentional accident,” and said the Police Department in April 2015 was sending officers onto the streets with outdated policies and inadequate training.

They said that under Davis, the department put in place “numerous reforms” that have resulted in “historical changes to how officers perform their duties and interact with the public in general.”

Gray was arrested in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore on April 12, 2015. He suffered a broken neck in the back of a police van and died a week later. His death inspired massive protests against police brutality; on the day he was buried, the city erupted in riots, arson and looting.

The city paid a $6.4 million judgment to Gray’s family.

White was one of the six officers who were criminally charged by Mosby in 2015. She faced manslaughter charges that could have brought 25 years in prison. Three of the officers were acquitted by a judge, and the charges against White and two others were dropped.

The Baltimore Police Department referred the internal investigation to an outside agency, which recommended charges against five of those officers. Two accepted minor discipline. White and two others, Officer Caesar Goodson, the van driver, and Lt. Brian Rice, faced possible termination, and decided to fight the cases.With the cases resolved, the only pending matter in the Gray case is a federal lawsuit brought by some of the officers against Mosby for malicious prosecution and defamation.

The disciplinary trials of Goodson and Rice were among the first since the General Assembly approved a law that opened the proceedings up to the public. In hearings held at the University of Baltimore law school, an attorney for the city presented charges to panels of three officers, who listened to determine whether department protocols were broken.

“We’re not here to prosecute high crimes,” said Neil Duke, the attorney prosecuting the case for the city, said in closing arguments against Rice. “We’re here to determine whether or not he followed protocol.”

Defense attorneys attacked the investigation into the officers’ actions. For example, Rice’s attorney said the Montgomery County officers who investigated the six officers interviewed only nine witnesses in nine months.

City Solicitor Andre Davis said after Rice’s acquittal that the city would press forward with White’s case.

White’s trial was to have begun Dec. 5. Garcia said she faced a total of 25 charges.

White told investigators that she was in West Baltimore as other officers were arresting Gray. She said she had learned citizens were complaining about his arrest and ventured out to North Avenue to check on the situation.

Surveillance video shows her behind the open doors of the arrest van, where she said she asked Gray if there was a problem.

"I'm like 'Hey, what's going on?' Like, 'What happened?' And he wasn't saying anything. He was just kind of like not responding," White told investigators in her first interview, five days after Gray’s arrest. "So I just figured at that point, he was like — just didn't want to cooperate."

He was not secured by a seat belt, against department rules — creating a safety hazard that prosecutors say officers did not seek to rectify.

White told investigators she didn't see a reason to seek medical attention for Gray at that time. She called for a medic later, when the van arrived at the Western District and Gray was not breathing.

Prosecutors began to focus on White after investigators spoke to Officer William Porter on April 17.

Porter said he asked Gray if he needed to go to a hospital, and Gray answered in the affirmative. Porter said he conveyed that request to White.

When police investigators confronted White about Porter's account, White said she had no recollection of such a conversation.

Garcia, her attorney, said White’s decision to call the medic showed her concern for the situation once she became aware of its severity. He noted the ambulance initially went to the wrong location, wasting precious moments as Gray suffered.

Prosecutors of the criminal charges said they dropped White’s case and the others only because they believe the judicial system was stacked against them.

White was suspended without pay after she was criminally charged, but received back pay after the charges were dropped. She earns $82,000 a year, according to city records. She has been serving in administrative capacities while the internal charges were pending, but may now return to full duty.

jfenton@baltsun.com

twitter.com/justin_fenton

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