Sixty-five people were arrested on Saturday after participants in a march against police brutality blocked Interstate 83 just north of downtown Baltimore.
Amid criticism, the Baltimore Police Department issued a statement Tuesday defending its actions in the arrests of 65 people Saturday during protests near the Jones Falls Expressway and the annual Artscape festival.
Protesters and others caught up in the police sweep — including some who had blocked the expressway and others milling along an on-ramp that had been closed for the festival — have said they were held in custody without being processed for hours, that one protester vomited in the closed police van, and that officers ignored requests for water and medical needs.
The department acknowledged complaints from some who were arrested that "they weren't treated well at the staging area for the mass arrests," but said each person was "provided with the opportunity" to stretch, use the bathroom and have handcuffs switched from behind to in front.
The department said a lieutenant from its inspections unit had been assigned to check on the detainees' condition as they were waiting to be processed at a staging area in the Northern District and that there had been no formal complaints to the internal affairs section as of Tuesday afternoon.
"The Baltimore Police Department is acutely aware of the level of scrutiny that has been placed on us and specifically the transport wagons themselves," the department said in an apparent nod to the continuing investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into its patterns and practices following the death last year of Freddie Gray, 25, from spinal injuries suffered in the back of a police van.
"In this scenario of a mass arrest, we made adjustments to ensure each arrestee was adequately attended to," the department said. "Arrestees were processed as quickly as possible and once they were completed, they were free to leave. That time varied in this situation, but that should be expected when 65 individuals are arrested in one scenario."
The Baltimore state's attorney's office has declined to prosecute 10 juveniles arrested in the incident. The 55 adults who were arrested were issued citations, including for failing to obey and illegally walking on a highway, and released.
Several activists who were arrested have taken to social media to lambaste the police for their treatment. Some called the department's statement Tuesday a lie.
The Baltimore Action Legal Team, a group that sent four legal observers to the protest — three of whom were arrested — has said the arrests were "a shameful tactic" used "not to uphold the law, but to silence dissent."
Retired news editor Tenney Mason was taking pictures at Artscape when the march passed by Penn Station, and he decided to follow with his camera.
Mason, 72, said he followed the marchers as they briefly blocked the expressway and was on the on-ramp from Charles Street shooting pictures. The ramp became filled with people as the protesters came off the highway, said Mason, a former photo editor for Patuxent Publishing, which is owned by The Baltimore Sun.
"Five minutes later I had my hands cuffed behind my back," Mason said.
Mason said it was stiflingly hot in the police van with a half-dozen other people. The van sat without moving for what seemed like an hour before one of the others threw up and passed out, he said.
"They didn't even have the engine on, so there was no air conditioning," Mason said. "It was hot, there's no circulation. After an hour or so, he said, 'I'm getting dizzy.' Next thing you know, he pukes."
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Mason said the people in the van started yelling for a medic and the man was removed, then later returned and appeared OK. Police adjusted the handcuffs of some who complained they were too tight, he said.
Mason said he was in the van for about seven hours before he was finally processed at the Northern District station. He said he was given two citations — a traffic violation for walking on the highway and a criminal charge for disobeying the order of an officer. That one carried a $500 fine and a court date, he said.
Afterward, Mason said he and others who had been arrested walked to a 7-Eleven to get something to eat and took an Uber back to Penn Station to pick up their cars.
"They arrested too many people and weren't prepared to deal with it," he said. "They didn't seem to have a plan. We were just sitting and waiting. It was just a lack of organization."