Freddie Gray's family is “devastated and disappointed” by the U.S. Department of Justice decision not to file criminal civil rights charges against the six Baltimore police officers involved in his fatal 2015 arrest, according to their attorney.
“This is a bitter pill for all of us to swallow,” said attorney Hassan Murphy. “It is the end of a chapter, and it is a sad and tragic chapter that has left a trail both in this city and in this country of hurt feelings, injury and disgust. And it is unfortunate that it has ended without anyone being held accountable for Freddie’s death.”
At the same time, Murphy said, the decision is one they accept, based in part on a conversation his firm’s team — including his father, attorney William H. “Billy” Murphy — had with the Justice Department attorneys who reviewed the case.
Hassan Murphy said he had been “prepared to believe” that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions would produce an investigation that was “nothing more than a whitewash or a political decision,” but was convinced otherwise.
“We have to admit that we left satisfied with the investigation undertaken by this particular group of lawyers at the Department of Justice, most or all of them holdovers from the Obama administration,” he said. “They were frank and forthright about the things they had done and the steps they had taken in this investigation.”
The Justice Department's decision was announced Tuesday. Local prosecutors filed criminal charges against the officers in state court, but failed to secure a single conviction after all of the officers pleaded not guilty.
Murphy, speaking at the firm’s downtown offices, said the family’s counsel “understand the limited jurisdiction that the federal government has in cases like this and the enhanced burden of proof that they have,” even as they “continue to believe that someone should be held accountable.”
With the decision made, he said, it is “time now for all of us to reflect, to heal, to fight and to continue our work in holding all of those with power over the rest of us to a very high standard.”
Murphy’s firm had said Gray’s family would attend the news conference, but they did not. Asked why, Billy Murphy said they were “tired of getting bad news” in the case and did not want to keep standing before the media to address it.
“They’re tired of being used as props for the genuine sorrow that they do not wish to experience over and over again, and so they’re not here,” Billy Murphy said.
“There is a level of fatigue for them, and it’s been hard for them to finish their mourning process while all of these things — the criminal case, the Department of Justice investigation — hang over them,” Hassan Murphy said. “Hopefully, despite what may come, they will have a chance now to really heal and be with themselves.”
The city reached a $6.4 million civil settlement with the Gray family in September 2015.
That settlement — which exceeded the combined total of more than 120 other lawsuits brought against the police for alleged brutality and misconduct since 2011 — did not acknowledge any wrongdoing by police, but accepted all civil liability in Gray’s arrest and death.
In a statement at the time, then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the settlement was proposed “solely because it is in the in best interest of the city, and avoids costly and protracted litigation that would only make it more difficult for our city to heal and potentially cost taxpayers many millions more in damages.
Gray, 25, was arrested after fleeing officers in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore on April 12, 2015, and being found with a knife that officers determined was an illegal switchblade, according to law enforcement officials. He was then handcuffed and shackled, but not restrained by a seat belt in the back of a police transport wagon, where prosecutors said he suffered a fatal spinal cord injury. He died a week later.
His death sparked widespread protests against police brutality in Baltimore, and his funeral April 27 was followed by rioting, looting and arson that caused millions of dollars in damage.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby filed state criminal charges against the six officers, from second-degree depraved heart murder to manslaughter to misconduct in office. Prosecutors alleged the officers had put Gray in danger by failing to restrain him in a seat belt, and that the driver of the van — Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. — had given him a “rough ride.”
Three of the officers — Goodson, Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Edward Nero — were acquitted at bench trials. Mosby subsequently dropped all charges against Sgt. Alicia White and Officers Garrett Miller and William Porter.
In an explanation of its decision on Tuesday, the Justice Department wrote that the evidence did not show Gray was given a “rough ride,” or that officers were aware their failure to secure Gray with a seat belt put him in danger, or that officers knew Gray was injured and needed immediate medical care.
In describing its findings in regard to the seat belt, the department gave a nod to the separate nature of civil and criminal cases in such instances, writing that, “to the extent that the officers violated department policy in failing to seat belt Gray, those failures suggest civil negligence rather than the high standard of deliberate indifference” that prosecutors would need to prove to bring criminal civil rights charges.
Goodson, Rice, Nero, White and Miller still face internal discipline for violating departmental policies, and are scheduled to stand trial on the administrative charges this fall and winter before panels of officers known as trial boards. The boards could acquit the officers, or find them guilty — at which point Police Commissioner Kevin Davis would determine their punishment.
Goodson, Rice and White face possible termination, while Miller and Nero face up to five days of suspension without pay. Porter is not facing administrative charges.
Mayor Catherine Pugh also addressed the Justice Department’s decision Wednesday, saying she didn’t know whether it was correct because she isn’t a lawyer and hadn’t seen all the evidence, but that “justice took its course.”
Pugh said she will wait to see what happens with the internal disciplinary trials. The outcomes of those cases are normally kept secret. Pugh said making them public was “open for consideration,” but it’s not clear that would be allowed under state law.
Billy Murphy said he also will be watching the officers’ trial boards, and that the outcomes should be public. He said keeping the outcomes secret after the trials themselves are open “would be a cruel joke.
Murphy also praised Mosby for charging the officers in state court, and claimed to have documents showing Baltimore police officers “deliberately obstructed” Mosby’s investigation into the officers’ actions.
“I have been legally made privy to documents that I believe, once they’re able to be released to the public, will show without question that in several significant ways, her investigation was sabotaged,” he said.
Asked to elaborate, Murphy declined. He said he is not at liberty to release the documents, but that their eventual release is inevitable.
Mosby’s prosecutors have made similar allegations about police obstructing the investigation. The Police Department has previously denied those claims as flat wrong, and T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, said Wednesday that the department stood by that response.
Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.