On the chilly early morning of April 12, Freddie Gray walked along North Avenue's wide sidewalk with two friends. Davonte Roary, Brandon Ross and Gray called each other "brothers." They had grown up around West Baltimore's Gilmor Homes complex and were meeting for breakfast.
At one point, Ross recalls, Gray doubled over laughing and clapping. "He was always happy," Roary says.
And he was devoted to his friends: "I would die" for them, Gray wrote in one of his Instagram postings.
Most of the events that morning have been well documented. Gray, 25, was chased by police officers, arrested and loaded into a transport van. He suffered a severe spinal injury, and his death a week later triggered protests that drew global attention. On the day he was buried, Baltimore erupted in rioting, looting and arson. Six police officers charged in his arrest and death have pleaded not guilty; the first of their trials is scheduled to start Nov. 30.
Authorities have said little about what happened before Gray was arrested, but Baltimore Sun interviews with his friends shed light on those events — and on the friends themselves. Roary, 20, ran with Gray but was not arrested. Ross, 31, did not run and recorded some of Gray's transport with a cellphone, the last known footage of him still conscious.
Both would attend Gray's funeral and watch as the lid of the white casket closed over their friend. Ross sobbed and hugged his friends. Roary stared down, stunned.
Both would be arrested on charges that predated Gray's arrest — Ross for an alleged probation violation, Roary on charges of assault and theft. Both would spend time in jail, but their charges would be dropped.
Roary and Ross joined in the protests surrounding Gray's death. "I want to try to turn all of this into something positive for the neighborhood," Ross says, adding that he is using the experience to try to turn his life around. "To make a change for the better."
All three men had had numerous interactions with the criminal justice system and had complained of police unfairness. In years past, Ross and Gray had convictions related to the drug dealing that plagues the neighborhood; Roary is back in jail, on a new charge involving an alleged drug transaction.
Gray, Roary and Ross — who had been talking about going back to school and getting jobs — grew up around Gilmor Homes in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. Only Ross lived at the public housing complex, but it remained their meeting place.
Roary — "Daddy Daddy" — wore a dark coat and jeans. Gray — whose friends called him "Pepper" — was outfitted in a black sweatshirt and a gray coat.
April 12, 2015 at 8:40 a.m. Davonte Roary runs into a Gilmor Homes building about one minute before Gray is apprehended by police a short distance away.
April 12, 2015 at 8 39 a.m. Davonte Roary, the second runner with Freddie Gray, runs across a courtyard at Gilmor Homes. Roary beats bike patrol officers to Gilmor by less than twenty seconds.
On that Sunday, the three planned to get breakfast at a carryout along North Avenue. The area often bustles with people going in and out of the Penn-North Metro station, the Pennsylvania Avenue branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and several small grocery stores.
Once the area also boasted the Arch Social Club — a men's group established by African-Americans in 1905 in the pursuit of "collective survival." Streetcars connected the neighborhood to downtown.
Now the streetcars are gone, and the area is troubled by crime. Nearby is the CVS store that was looted and burned in the hours after Gray's funeral. Blinking blue lights show where police surveillance cameras keep watch.
The carryout where Gray, Roary and Ross planned to eat was closed, Roary says, "so we began walking back to the projects."
As they turned onto Mount Street, toward Gilmor Homes, Roary and Gray broke into a run.
Police have said Gray made eye contact with two officers on routine bicycle patrol and ran.
Roary did not have a clear explanation for why they ran, but said they didn't see any officers. "We just took off," he said in a phone interview from jail.
The difference between Roary's account and the police version could prove significant in court. Courts have allowed officers in high-crime areas to pursue individuals who see them and flee unprovoked, according to legal experts. But it can be more difficult to justify chasing someone who is simply running.
Roary said he cut through an alley to run down North Calhoun Street, and eventually wound his way back to Gilmor Homes and into a Bruce Court building.
Police surveillance footage shows a man sprinting across a Gilmor courtyard at 8:40 a.m. while bike patrol officers go down a different alley a block away. Footage from another camera shows Roary running into a building just seconds before officers catch Gray, who had run off in another direction.
Ross declined to talk about what he saw that morning, saying that he is saving his testimony for the officers' trials.
But cellphone and surveillance footage show Ross catching up to Gray as two bike patrol officers push his friend face-down on the sidewalk. Gray's arms and legs are bent behind his back.
April 12, 2015 at 8:41 a.m. Officers Miller and Nero begin to move Freddie Gray from a sitting position to a prone one on the ground.
Ross paces back and forth and asks a neighbor to get the badge numbers of the officers. "Why the [expletive] are you twisting his leg like that?" he asks.
As police load Gray into the van, Ross and others begin to retreat, and the vehicle drives off. When it stops a block away, the bystanders run over.
Looking back now, April 27 unfolded in Baltimore in a way that seems both unimaginable yet also predictable. Unlike previous police custody deaths, Freddie Gray's struck a deep and still raw nerve. It likely was too much to expect that volatility to remain beneath the surface, even for one day. And indeed, as interviews and government documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun attest, there were multiple warning signs of impending trouble. But in the end, the city seemed largely in the position of
Roary and Ross said they went to the Western District police station to check on Gray and complain about his treatment. But they couldn't get in, Ross said, so they went to a home nearby to borrow a phone and call 311, the city's service request line.
Roary arrested twice
Officers arrested Roary three days later on charges of second-degree assault and theft of less than $100. Police said he hit his girlfriend and stole her cellphone.
Hershey Witherspoon, Roary's girlfriend, said they fought, Roary left her apartment with her mother's cellphone and she called 911. But she didn't pursue charges.
"They told me, 'If you want him arrested, you have to go downtown and put a warrant on him,'" she said. "I never went downtown to put a warrant on him."
Witherspoon was surprised when police arrived at the home of Roary's mother at 5 a.m. on April 15 to arrest him. According to court records, the warrant for Roary was signed by a judge on March 14, the day of the incident.
"We was sleeping and I just see bright lights," Witherspoon said. "They had flashlights and they jumped in the bed. An officer whipped the handcuffs out."
She says police dragged Roary out of bed and took him away. He was eventually released on bail and the charges were dropped.
On July 31, Roary was arrested on a more serious charge: attempted murder.
The shooting had occurred the day before, according to authorities. In charging documents, they describe a drug deal gone bad, and say Roary instructed a man to shoot a customer who failed to turn over money. The man was shot in the shoulder with a 9 mm handgun.
Officers appeared at the home of Melissa Zeigler, Roary's mother, shortly after midnight on July 31. They showed her an affidavit indicating that they had traced a phone used to arrange the alleged drug deal to Roary's home.
Police say Zeigler allowed officers to enter her home. She disputed this, saying, "They held us captive for six hours before they could get a warrant."
The affidavit was attached to a search-and-seizure warrant for a gun, clothing, a cellphone and personal paperwork. Zeigler says officers took a cellphone, but it wasn't Roary's — it belonged to another son and hadn't been used in months.
Ziegler doesn't think her son had anything to do with the attempted murder. She says police are using the charge, like the previous ones for assault and theft, to discredit him before he testifies in the trials of the officers.
On Thursday, Roary stood in a yellow jail jumpsuit before Baltimore Circuit Judge Emmanuel Brown. It was supposed to be the first day of his trial on the attempted murder charge, but the prosecutor asked for a delay. The trial now is set to begin in January.
"They just want to delay his case because they don't have anything on him and they want to discredit him," Zeigler says.
Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office, said, "We can't comment on pending cases, but we only pursue charges against individuals when we have the appropriate evidence to do so." Prosecutors declined to comment further on issues involving Roary or Ross.
Roary's public defender, Linda Zeit, said the delay was not unusual for such a case.
Turning point for Ross
Ross also had a run-in with police after Gray's arrest.
On April 24, a judge signed a warrant for Ross' arrest on allegations that he had violated the probation from a dirt bike registration offense the year before. Officers apprehended him two months later.
"It was Father's Day," said Ross, who has two children, "and they gave me no bail for a violation of probation from a traffic violation?"
Ross spent 40 days in jail before the charges were dropped.
Ross says his arrest, like Roary's, is part of a pattern of police harassment since Gray's arrest, a common complaint among residents in West Baltimore.
Police declined to comment on the matter or the allegations of harassment, because Roary and Ross are potential witnesses in the Gray cases. The judge presiding over the trials of the six police officers accused in Gray's death has ordered the prosecution and defense not to speak publicly about the proceedings.
Like Roary and Gray, Ross has an arrest record. It includes convictions for second-degree attempted murder — an incident near Bruce Court — and manufacturing drugs when he was 18.
"That was 12 years ago," he said. "When I was a kid."
He's been arrested a number of other times. He was convicted of possession of marijuana and two traffic violations.
He's worked at McDonald's and a local catering company, among other places, according to court records and transcripts.
Ross says Gray's death has been a turning point. Since losing his friend, he has helped organize murals and a community garden in Sandtown-Winchester and back-to-school charity drives. He plans to take art classes at Baltimore City Community College in the spring.
He has also participated in peaceful protests asking for greater police accountability. In May, for example, he helped lead a march from Gilmor Homes to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 3 headquarters.
Ross said he's trying to make a lasting change that will help his Gilmor Homes community, but circumstances keep pulling him down.