The faces of Baltimore's unrest: Where are they now?

A year later: a look back at the key figures from Baltimore's unrest, and where they are now.

After Freddie Gray’s death, amid the unrest in Baltimore last year, dozens of local residents, protesters, rioters, clergy members, law enforcement officials and city leaders found themselves in the national spotlight.

Many were captured in powerful photographs and videos that went viral online. Several became the focus of criminal investigations, others the victims of violence. A number of them attracted attention for voicing concerns about systemic issues in Baltimore, or leading efforts to help the city heal. A few were simply caught up in the whirlwind.

One year later, The Baltimore Sun sought updates on how their lives have changed.

Greg Butler Jr., arrested

For a 22-year-old facing up to 25 years in federal prison, Greg Butler is surprisingly optimistic about his future.

Butler faces federal charges stemming from one of the most haunting images from the riots that gripped the city last spring. Police identified Butler as the man behind the gas mask who, as the world watched on live television, punctured a fire hose that firefighters were using to extinguish a fire at the CVS Pharmacy that was looted and set ablaze on North Avenue.

The image of the gas-masked protester, right fist in the air, riding a bicycle against a backdrop of billowing smoke and a police line, led the front page of The Baltimore Sun, becoming one of the riot’s defining images.

In December, as a circuit court jury deliberated state charges against him that resulted in two probation before judgment verdicts, federal agents arrested Butler on charges of obstructing firefighting during a civil disorder and aiding and abetting arson. The charges carry a maximum of 25 years in federal prison, with no parole, and the arson charge a minimum of five.

In a statement, federal prosecutor Rod J. Rosenstein said that while his office protected the right of protesters, it also protects the rights of “citizens not to have their pharmacies burned, and the right of firefighters not to have their lives placed in jeopardy.”

Later this month at a motions hearing, Butler’s attorneys will argue that the charges are an extreme and unprecedented application of the federal arson charge. They also wrote that “while Butler’s conduct during last April’s riots was undoubtedly reckless and foolish, it was also completely out of character.”

While he is scheduled to go to trial in July, Butler is focused more on June, when he will welcome his first child, a son, with his fiancee.

“When I come home, he recognizes my voice and goes crazy,” said Butler, who is employed at the same home improvement company where he has worked since he was 16.

He recently moved into his own house and looks forward to raising his son in a stable, two-parent household. He has connected with community leaders who have offered him a chance to mentor youth in his East Baltimore neighborhood when his legal issues are resolved.

“He’s going to have everything I wish I had, a mom to come downstairs to everyday,” he said. “I’m doing everything in my power to make sure he does.” 

Brian Wassum, injured officer

Not long after the clashes between police and mostly young rioters began on April 27, the day of Freddie Gray’s funeral, Brian Wassum, a 14-year veteran of the Baltimore Police Department, was on a police skirmish line about 3:49 p.m. near Mondawmin Mall when he was struck in the head with a projectile.

An image of Wassum falling backward and bleeding from the head as other officers braced to support him was captured by a Baltimore Sun reporter on the scene. The picture went viral, becoming one of the most cited images from the clash outside the mall.

Wassum is believed to have been the most seriously wounded officer of the approximately 155 officers who suffered injuries during the unrest, though police have declined to detail his injuries.

In November, when Wassum was still on medical leave, Commissioner Kevin Davis went to his home to honor him with a special 2015 Service Ribbon. Davis said then that Wassum was going through a lot of therapy but was eager to get back to work.

Wassum, who declined to be interviewed, has since returned to active duty, police said, and is now assigned to the Special Operations Section, which includes the SWAT teams as well as the K-9, aviation, traffic, stadium and marine units.

Vikki Powers is the longtime owner of Vikki’s Fells Point Deli, where Wassum is a beloved regular from working for so many years as a Southeastern District patrol officer.
Powers said Wassum “doesn’t stop in as much as he did” when he was on the local beat but still comes in for breakfast some days, and it’s “nice to see him back in the area again.”

He also seems happy, she said.

“He was really ecstatic about going back to work,” Powers said. “I’m just glad to see he’s healthy and back to work.” 

Toya Graham, mother

Toya Graham, a West Baltimore resident, was propelled into the limelight as the Baltimore “hero mom” last April after WMAR footage showed her disciplining her son, Michael Singleton, after he attempted to participate in the riots at Mondawmin Mall.

The clip, which showed Michael dressed in all black with brick in hand and Graham chasing him away while slapping him and cursing, resulted in an influx of interview requests, TV appearances, travels out of state, job offers, celebrity meetings and a host of promises for Graham, including a scholarship for Michael.

But few promises were kept, Graham said, and the mother of six said she’s back to trying to make ends meet.

“I’m still a mom. I still have my six children, and we still have to do what we have to do on a daily basis to keep our heads afloat,” said the 43-year-old, who most recently appeared on the “Steve Harvey Show” in March. “To this day, a lot of people still think that Oprah gave me a mansion and that I have all this money and Michael has all of these things, and that’s just not so.”

Graham, who was unemployed at the time of the riots, got her certified medication technician license late last year and now has two jobs working more than 80 hours a week in assisted-living homes in the city.

On April 1, she moved into a larger home in Druid Heights with four of her daughters and a granddaughter. Her son, Michael, now 17, started job training at the Woodland Job Corps Center in Laurel this month in hopes of becoming an electrician. He’ll be visiting Baltimore on the weekends, Graham said. 

Alethea Booze, resident

Ask Alethea Booze how the neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested has changed, and she can tell you in precise detail — starting nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

Growing up in her parents’ meticulous rowhome near the corner of North Mount and Presbury streets in the 1940s and ’50s, Booze remembers mornings spent scrubbing the white marble steps and afternoon block parties where everyone would share big pots of food and dance.

In the 1960s and ’70s, she remembers raising her two sons in her family home as a disciplinarian who didn’t put up with nonsense but also rewarded good grades by taking her boys on trips. She also remembers the beginning of the drug trade, and trying to keep her sons free from its influences.

She remembers asking families why they were moving out, why they let their homes fall into disrepair. She remembers her determination to commit herself to the community just as her parents did — no matter what happened.

“Mom and Daddy always helped the kids, so I guess that’s where I got it from,” she said.

Today, Booze, 72, still lives in the same home. She’s one of the few long-timers left, and she still cooks big meals every Sunday, offering plates to a stream of kids and neighborhood regulars.
Freddie Gray used to be one of them, and Booze still thinks often about Gray and his arrest — which she witnessed.

One year after Gray’s death from spinal injuries suffered in the back of a police transport van, a large mural of his face covers the side of a rowhome feet from Booze’s own. Buses sometimes show up with tourists, she said, who snap pictures and gawk at the vacant homes. She wishes they’d consider what they can bring to the neighborhood, rather than what they can take away.

For Booze, the last year has been the latest chapter — albeit an eventful one — in the life of a neighborhood she’s spent all her life working to improve. She resents that more hasn’t been done to help the neighborhood and wishes police officers today were more like those she remembers in the past — who would buy kids an ice cream cone when they couldn’t afford one and take run-ins with local teenagers as opportunities for mentoring.

“If you had more people who care and help people,” Booze said, “it would be a lot better.” 

Asad Ali, youth

When Nazaahah Amin saw last year’s unrest breaking out not far from the Islamic Community School on West North Avenue — where her mother is the principal, she once taught and her 9-year-old son, Asad, used to attend classes — the District of Columbia resident wanted to be part of a positive community response the next morning.

She also wanted her son to be a part of it — taking in history as it unfolded.

“That was really, really important to me,” Amin said. “I wanted him to be there so the cops and the law enforcement knew that there are great black boys around. I really wanted them to see that, to see the black excellence.”

The two traveled to Baltimore the next morning and met up with her parents, who were already out cleaning up the neighborhood. As they spent the day walking around the community, Asad handed out high-fives — including to police officers and members of the National Guard.

One of those moments with National Guard Sgt. 1st Class James J. Hatcher was captured by a Baltimore Sun photographer. The image instantly became a favorite of those looking for signs of positivity amid the tension.

In February, another photograph of Ali interacting with Baltimore police officers was featured in a montage of images in an episode of the ABC show “Blackish” that focused on police brutality and how black parents talk to their children about the issue. Amin and her son happened to be watching the episode.

“I jumped up and was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ ” said Amin, 32.

“I was more chill about it,” said Asad, now 10. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, look. There I am.’”
Amin said she and her son still talk about the events in Baltimore often. He said the memories will stick with him forever.

“Every time I see a news report about how people are getting brutalized, I think, ‘Man, I was out there. I was part of that revolution,’ ” he said. “I remember that it felt good being out there making a difference in the community. I learned that not all cops are bad.” 

Kevin Moore, Freddie Gray’s friend

Kevin Moore was sleeping in his apartment in Gilmor Homes when he heard his friend Freddie Gray was getting arrested by police. He ran out and recorded the interaction on his cellphone.

Prosecutors have included his video as evidence in the forthcoming trials of the six Baltimore police officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death.

Moore has since joined the WeCopwatch organization, where he says he plans to give classes to local residents about filming the police.

He’s been featured in a number of television specials, including the joint CNN-Baltimore Sun special report “Who Killed Freddie Gray?” He also spoke at last year’s “Focus for a Change Benefit” for Witness, a nonprofit organization that supports the use of video to expose human rights abuses across the world.

Donta Allen, in police van with Gray

Donta Allen was arrested the same day as Freddie Gray and placed into the back of the same transport van, though on the other side of a metal divider. In the following months, he gave conflicting statements as to what he heard during the ride from North Avenue to the Western District police station.

His story has become relevant to the trials of some of the officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death, as prosecutors and defense attorneys have argued over when Gray was injured. Allen was even brought to Baltimore in December from a jail in York County, Pa. — where he was sent after being charged with forging a check there — to possibly testify at the trial of Officer William Porter. However, he never took the stand.

He is due in Baltimore court on May 2, accused of violating his probation on a 2012 armed-robbery case.

John Chae, store owner

John Chae, one of the owners of the Fireside North lounge and liquor store on West North Avenue, was attacked and badly beaten after his store was looted and set ablaze. He suffered two broken bones near his right eye and lost feeling in part of his face.

A GoFundMe website started by one of Chae’s friends raised more than $32,000 to help the family recover.

In October, federal prosecutors charged a man in Chae’s attack, but Chae said he still blamed Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and other city officials for allowing the situation to get out of hand.

Asked if he would consider starting another business in the city, Chae said, “Hell, no.”

Anthony W. Batts, former police commissioner

Anthony Batts was Baltimore’s police commissioner at the time of Gray’s arrest and during the subsequent unrest. His handling of the rioting and looting was heavily criticized, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake fired him in July — calling his tenure at the top of the department as a distraction as the city tried to heal from the unrest and deal with a skyrocketing number of homicides.

Since then, Batts has made a couple of public appearances but has otherwise kept a very low profile.

In October, Batts paid $480,000 for a five-bedroom, four-bathroom house inside a gated community in Coral Springs, Fla., according to property records. He took out a $384,000 mortgage for the home, located on an upscale golf course near Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Miami. Florida law allows certain homeowners to register properties under fictitious names. He registered the home under the name “Jean Luc Giovanni.”

Batts could not be reached for comment.

William H. “Billy” Murphy, attorney

A prominent attorney in Baltimore, William H. “Billy” Murphy increased his national stature after taking Freddie Gray’s family on as clients and negotiating a $6.4 million settlement for the family with city officials.

Murphy has continued to speak on behalf of the Gray family, including after the jury came back in December unable to reach a verdict in the trial of Officer William Porter, the only officer charged in Gray’s arrest and death to go to trial to date.

Murphy also made news recently when he filed a class-action lawsuit over water contamination issues on behalf of residents in Flint, Michigan.

Donta Betts, arrested

Donta Betts participated in the looting of the CVS pharmacy at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues on April 27. He was captured on camera spraying lighter fluid onto a lighted roll of toilet paper atop propane cylinders in the street. The cylinders later exploded.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives released the image in search of Betts, 20.

As part of a plea agreement last month, Betts pleaded guilty in federal court to making a destructive device during the rioting, as well as an unrelated charge of discharging a weapon in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime. Under the plea agreement, Betts will be sentenced to between 14 and 16 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in June.

Marilyn J. Mosby, state’s attorney

Four months into her first term as one of the youngest top city prosecutors in the country, Marilyn Mosby was faced with the question of whether to charge police officers in the killing of Freddie Gray.

Her office acted quickly, filing charges against six, announced in a triumphant news conference from the steps of the city’s War Memorial punctuated with her campaign slogan of “Our Time is Now.”

The decision, amid national scrutiny over how police-involved deaths are handled, brought national acclaim, including a photo shoot with Vanity Fair — as well as unprecedented scorn.

Only one case has gone to trial, resulting in a hung jury, but prosecutors won a key battle that reached the Court of Appeals. All the while, her office has been struggling along with police to curb a spike in gun violence that led to the highest per capita murder rate in the city’s history.

Hailed and condemned for the charges in the Gray case, Mosby roiled activists last week when she declined to reopen the case of the death of Tyrone West. 

Carla Hayden, librarian

Amid the unrest, Carla Hayden, CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library since 1993, decided to keep all of the 22 library branches of the historic Pratt system open — even the one by the riot’s center at Penn and North avenues — as safe spaces for kids and other neighborhood residents.

In February, President Barack Obama nominated Hayden to lead the Library of Congress, citing her decision to keep the libraries open as a “beacon for the community” amid the unrest.

In March, Hayden was named to Fortune’s “World’s Greatest Leaders” list, saying she “knows plenty about sustaining a library as a relevant and inclusive institution.” 

Iona Spikes, principal

The former managing principal of Frederick Douglass High School, Iona Spikes faced the toughest test in her educational career during last spring’s unrest.

About 100 students walked out of the historic high school in protest after Freddie Gray’s death and became embroiled with other residents in a violent standoff with police at neighboring Mondawmin Mall. When the remainder of the school’s nearly 900 students were dismissed, many were stranded because the nearby transportation hub was shut down.

In the days after the riot, Spikes welcomed a parade of news media, education leaders and celebrities to the school with the goal of rewriting the week’s narrative and giving her students a platform to express their frustrations productively.

She disciplined students who had taken part in the standoff; only two from Douglass were arrested in connection with the riots. She and her team walked students to the bus stop, past the National Guard stationed across the street.

While Spikes applied to become the permanent principal at Douglass, she was not selected.

In the last year, Spikes said she has been on personal leave, refocusing on her career and supporting her family through an unexpected illness. And she’s plotting her next move in Baltimore.

“I am working diligently on readying myself for the next phase in my career which will focus on college access and leadership development,” Spikes wrote in an email. “I hope to launch this work with city schools or the U.S. Department of Education. Through it all, I am still committed to and believe in the children of Baltimore and hope to be instrumental in turning all the GOOD into GREAT.” 

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, mayor

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was criticized immediately as the unrest broke out, in part for not making enough public appearances amid the worst of the rioting to project strong leadership and urge calm.

In the following days, she was harshly criticized for the city’s handling of the rioting, and for a comment she made — which she and others argued was taken out of context — that the city had given space to “those who wished to destroy.”

Rawlings-Blake, seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party, did not recover politically.

In September, she announced that she would not seek re-election.

“I knew that I needed to spend time, the remaining 15 months of my term, focused on the city's future and not my own,” she said. 

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor

As pastor of the 12,000-member Empowerment Temple in Northwest Baltimore, the Rev. Jamal Bryant has participated in various protests about police brutality, appearing in Florida and in Ferguson, Mo., to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.

After Freddie Gray’s death, he once again took to the streets to lead protests in his home town.

Amid the unrest, he tried to calm people and discourage violence.

In September, Bryant announced he would run for Congress in the 7th Congressional District, but he later backed out of the race. He has since met with Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and criticized other pastors for meeting with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

After the mistrial of Officer William Porter in Gray’s death in December, he called on protesters to consider the criminal prosecution of the six officers in the Gray case a “marathon.” 

Malik Shabazz, president of Black Lawyers for Justice

Malik Shabazz arrived in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray and helped lead several protests and rallies.

Some Baltimore leaders criticized Shabazz, the former leader of the New Black Panther Party and a controversial figure for his past anti-Semitic public statements, as an “outsider,” and he was watched carefully during his time in the city by state and local officials.

Shabazz, who practices law in Greenbelt, said in a recent interview that he and his organization continue “to be interested in the right outcome” in the cases against the six Baltimore police officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death. They plan to return to the city “with a variety of activities and advocacy” during the trials “because it’s necessary and we can’t let it die down,” he said.

He and his organization “will continue to fight until some officers are behind bars,” he said. “It’s far from over. We are deep in the fight against police brutality in courts across the country; the Freddie Gray case is primary.” 

The Rev. Westley West, pastor

The Rev. Westley West, a West Baltimore pastor, led daily protests last spring after Gray’s death.

The 28-year-old pastor of Faith Empowered Ministries was again on the front lines of demonstrations in September during pretrial court proceedings for the officers who were charged. Following a protest downtown Sept. 2, West was charged with disorderly conduct and other counts after standing in the way of traffic on Pratt Street.

In February, jurors acquitted him disturbance of the peace and failure to obey law enforcement. Prosecutors dropped the other charges before the trial.

West is now a Democratic candidate for the City Council’s 7th District, which includes Sandtown-Winchester. He still faces legal troubles in Baltimore County, where prosecutors allege he used bank account and routing information to steal more than $700 from an Owings Mills flooring company where he briefly worked as a truck driver. His attorney called the charges false. A trial date is scheduled for April 19.

Larry Lomax, arrested

Larry Lomax was pepper-sprayed by Baltimore police during the nightly curfew established in the city after the worst of the unrest.

In a video of the incident that went viral, Lomax is seen taunting police on a street in West Baltimore when he is pepper-sprayed, then yanked to the ground by an officer. Many activists accused the officers involved of using excessive force.

Lomax was charged with rioting, second-degree assault, disorderly conduct and a curfew violation.

The rioting and assault charges were dropped.

He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in District Court, where the curfew violation was dismissed.

Then he appealed in Circuit Court and was acquitted of disorderly conduct.

In August, he was charged in Howard County with fourth-degree burglary and destruction of property, but those charges were not pursued by prosecutors. In September, he was charged with drug possession. That case is pending. 

Kwame Rose, protester

Amid last year’s unrest, Kwame Rose shot to prominence after an exchange on the street with Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera — in which he criticized national media coverage of the events and called on Fox to leave Baltimore — went viral.

Since then, Rose — whose legal name is Darius Rosebrough — has continued to be in the spotlight, and his profile in the local protest movement has risen. He has spoken on various panels about the unrest and the future of Baltimore.

He has been arrested twice during protests outside the Baltimore courthouse, including after the December mistrial of Officer William Porter in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.

In March, he was found guilty of failing to obey an order from law enforcement after the mistrial and fined, but was found not guilty of other charges. His attorneys, including with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, have said they will fight the conviction. 

Goodson/Miller/Nero/Porter/Rice/White, the charged officers

Days after the rioting died down, the Baltimore state’s attorney announced charges on May 1 against six officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray: Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White, and officers William Porter, Caesar Goodson, Edward Nero, and Garrett Miller.

All have pleaded not guilty.

Since then, no verdicts have been reached, despite a slew of court filings and multiple hearings.
Porter went to trial in December, but the jury was hung and a mistrial was declared.

Further delay came when the cases were taken up by the Court of Appeals, Maryland’s highest court, which needed to decide whether Porter could be forced to testify against the others under a form of limited immunity. The high court ruled he could be forced to testify.

The next trial, of Nero, is scheduled to begin May 10. 

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
46°