Richard “Rick” Shipley, the stepfather of Freddie Gray, has died, according to the family’s attorney. He was 60.
Shipley was a voice for calm in Baltimore in April and May of 2015, when Gray’s death from injuries suffered in police custody sparked widespread protests and the city erupted in rioting.
“Let us have peace in the pursuit of justice," Shipley urged on May 1, 2015, hours after Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced criminal charges against six police officers in the case.
“He was a heck of a guy,” said Billy Murphy, the family attorney.
Shipley died on Feb. 6. Murphy did not know the cause, and family members — including Gray’s mother Gloria Darden — could not be reached for comment.
A funeral service was held Monday evening at the Refreshing Springs Baptist Church, where Shipley attended weekly bible study, according to a program for the service.
Shipley, who helped raise Gray, spoke publicly on several occasions following Gray’s arrest and death, including at times when other family members — including Darden, Gray’s father Freddie Gray Sr. and Gray’s twin Fredericka Gray — chose not to speak or were too overwhelmed by emotion to do so.
In doing so, Shipley spoke to the world, as the case drew national and then international attention.
It was Shipley who first informed The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets that Gray, 25, was in an induced coma after sustaining severe spinal cord injuries in police custody on April 12, 2015. It was also Shipley who spoke publicly about the need for calm to be restored in Baltimore after the rioting and the subsequent decision by Mosby to file criminal charges against the officers.
“Whoever comes to our city — a city that we love, a city that we live in — come in peace. If you are not coming in peace, please don't come at all," Shipley said at the time from the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture. “Because this city needs to get back to work. The last thing that Freddie would want is to see the hard-working people of Baltimore lose their jobs and businesses because of this.”
Shipley was born Sept. 6, 1957, to the late Joseph Shipley and Agnes Marie Allen, grew up in Baltimore and attended Frederick Douglass High School, according to the program.
He worked “various freelance jobs some being a tree removal contractor for Baltimore City and janitorial work for the Idlewylde Community Hall,” according to the program. “All his jobs were done with excellence and care; even as a youth he would shine shoes with a snap and pop rhythm of the cloth that brought him special attention and extra revenue.”
“Rick was known for his quick wit, jokes, and to the point remarks,” the program read. “He appreciated History and could ‘educate’ you on various subjects.”
After the first trial of an officer charged in the death of Gray, which ended with a hung jury and a mistrial in December 2015, Shipley thanked the jurors for their service and the “personal sacrifice” they made.
“We are not at all upset with them, and neither should the public be upset. They did the best that they could,” he said, urging the public to be "calm and patient, because we are confident there will be another trial with a different jury."
There was not.
Instead, three other officers — Officer Edward Nero, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. and Lt. Brian Rice — were acquitted at bench trials in May, June and July of 2016, respectively. Mosby then dropped all charges against Officer William Porter, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Garrett Miller.
When Mosby announced that decision in West Baltimore’s Gilmor Homes, where Gray was chased and arrested, she lamented her inability to secure a single conviction. She blamed her reliance on the Police Department to investigate its own, suggesting they hadn’t done a good job of it, and her not having a say in whether the cases proceeded in front of a judge or jury.
Again, Shipley was there, saying the family members “stand behind Marilyn and her prosecuting team” and were “proud to have them represent us.”
Despite the lack of convictions in criminal court, Murphy was able to negotiate a $6.4 million payment to the family from the city.
Shipley was involved in Gray’s life for years, according to court filings from a case in which Gray and his sisters won a lead paint settlement in 2010 from the owner of a Sandtown-Winchester home the family rented. The siblings were found to have damaging lead levels in their blood, according to the court records, and were treated for lead at Kennedy Krieger.
Family members said Darden and Shipley tried to ameliorate the lead problem, and Shipley discussed keeping the children on “certain diets” to help prevent lead absorption in a September 2009 deposition.
“We kept them on a pretty nice diet,” Shipley said. “I did because I did most of the food shopping.”
Just hours before the worst of the rioting in 2015, Gray’s family had a funeral for him that was attended by civil rights activists, prominent clergy, family members of others killed in police custody, Obama administration officials and local and state politicians, some of whom gave fiery speeches calling for justice.
But it was Shipley who spoke on behalf of the family at that service, reading a poem the family wrote for Gray as the crowd fell silent to listen.
“You're still here in my heart and mind," Shipley read. “I feel you, and this gives me strength and courage. The tears I've cried for you could flood the earth, and know you have wiped each one away.”
Murphy said after the mistrial of Porter that it was Shipley who told the city, “If I’m not upset, why should you be?” Murphy said it showed Shipley’s character.
“I really do think it had a tremendous impact,” Murphy said. “And I think he’s really going to be remembered.”