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More details emerge on Batts meeting after Freddie Gray death

More details emerge on Batts meeting after Freddie Gray death
Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts shown at February question and answer session with the media at police headquarters. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

A Baltimore man who met with city police officials in the aftermath of Freddie Gray's death said he told then-Police Commissioner Anthony Batts he was Gray's brother-in-law, even though he was a friend of the family. The childhood friend of Gray's said he met with Batts and other officials on April 23 and introduced himself as Gray's brother-in-law, which he considers himself.

Juan Grant, 29, a childhood friend of Gray's, said this week that he met with Batts and other officials on April 23 on behalf of the family. He said he introduced himself as Gray's brother-in-law, which he considers himself.

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The meeting was the subject of a terse letter from William H. Murphy, Jr., the attorney hired by Gray's family, to Batts. The letter was among 7,000 emails and documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun this week in a public records request.

"It has come to our attention that you made statements claiming to have met with the family of Freddie Gray, Jr. about the investigation into his death," Murphy wrote on April 24. "These statements are not true. Stated succinctly, you have not met with Mr. Gray's family. Please cease and desist making such statements."

Murphy also told Batts that any meeting with the family would be facilitated by lawyers at the firm.

Asked about the email Monday, Murphy said, Batts "did not meet [Gray's] mother, stepfather, father or his siblings. He was giving the impression that he did."

Batts said Tuesday he was deceived about the circumstances of what he thought was a legitimate meeting with a member of Gray's family.

"I was lied to," he said. "[Then-Deputy Commissioner] Kevin Davis was lied to."

The meeting took place just days before the funeral of Gray, a 25-year-old who died of injuries sustained while in police custody. Large crowds of protesters were gathering daily around City Hall and in other parts of the city.

The meeting was initiated in a conversation between Grant and Lt. Col. Melvin Russell, the men said.

"I wasn't privy to the meeting," Russell said. Grant "wanted to talk to the commissioner so I said, 'Let me see what I can do.'"

"We had a conversation about keeping the peace ... about making sure the community knew the facts about what was going on," Batts said Tuesday.

Batts said he and other police leaders later learned that Grant was not a member of Gray's family. Batts said he did not recall how he found out.

Grant said the meeting was held in good faith. Batts "was telling me about what they knew from the case, what they [were] investigating," he said.

Also at the meeting were Kiona Mack, who took one of the viral videos of Gray's arrest, and the Rev. Westley West, who led many of the protests in Sandtown-Winchester.

Grant said at the time that he went on behalf of family members, who were too distraught.

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He said he relayed to them Batts' sympathies and details he learned of the investigation.

Batts, who was replaced as commissioner by Davis earlier this month, declined to comment on Grant's remarks.

Murphy could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Gray died a week after his spinal cord was injured in a police transport van. His death led to protests that devolved into looting and rioting.

Six police officers face various charges in Gray's death; their trial is set to begin in October. The officers have pleaded not guilty.

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