Jubilant Baltimore residents cheer charges in Freddie Gray case, as police decry 'rush to judgment'

Jubilant Baltimore residents react to charges in Freddie Gray case

Amid a cacophony of people shouting and car horns honking, Baltimoreans pulled each other into close hugs and joyful handshakes Friday as word spread that State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby was charging six police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray.

Gray died April 19, a week after he was injured in police custody.

The revelers said police officers in Baltimore and around the country have mistreated, hurt or killed young black men without repercussions — but not this time.

"To do what she did, we finally got some justice," said Yvonne Cox, 55. "Sadly, Freddie Gray had to die the way he did for us to get some justice."

Meanwhile, at Baltimore police headquarters and among police union officials, the decision was met with shock — and sharp criticism.

The officers who led the department's internal investigation and delivered their findings to Mosby on Thursday gathered in the office of Col. Garnell Green to watch her announcement on a flat-screen television.

As she announced the charges, stunned expressions spread across their faces. Few expected her to move so quickly.

Gene Ryan, president of the city's Fraternal Order of Police lodge, said the union was "appalled and frustrated."

He called the charges an "apparent rush to judgment," and said they would "make our job even harder."

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple, handed out chicken cheese steaks in front of the CVS store at Pennsylvania and North avenues that was looted and burned in the riots Monday.

"It's an exciting day for us," he said. "But it's actually a sad day when black people have to celebrate the system working."

Bryant was joined by Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in 2012.

"Everybody is applauding the decision, but that's just one step toward justice," Fulton said. "We still have to go to trial, and we'll see if the charges stick."

Gray, 25, was chased and arrested April 12 near the Gilmor Homes housing project in West Baltimore. Officers took him in a van on a 45-minute ride to the Western District police station; he emerged with a severe spinal cord injury and a crushed voice box.

He died a week later.

Donta Allen, who was put into the van with Gray for the final leg of the trip, ran through the large crowd near Pennsylvania and North avenues hugging and high-fiving people.

"I'm so happy we got justice for Freddie," he said.

Inside the van, a metal partition separated Allen and Gray. Police have called him a "key witness" in the case, and people have speculated about what he might have heard during the trip.

On Friday, he said he heard "very little banging for like four seconds" and nothing else.

"I know that man for a fact did not hurt himself," Allen said.

Large numbers of National Guardsmen, Baltimore police officers and out-of-state law enforcement stood watch over the intersection.

Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., the driver of the van, was charged with second-degree murder. Goodson and three other officers were charged with manslaughter, three were charged with false imprisonment, and all were charged with assault and misconduct in office.

Mosby called on the public to remain calm through the long legal process ahead.

"I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace,'" she said. "Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man."

Michael E. Davey, an attorney who works with the police union and is representing one of the officers, said the charges appeared to be driven by public pressure.

"Let me say in no uncertain terms that Lt. [Brian] Rice and all of the officers involved at all times acted reasonably and in accordance with their training as Baltimore City police officers," Davey said. "No officers injured Mr. Gray, caused harm to Mr. Gray, and they are truly saddened by his death."

Davey questioned the "fairness and integrity" of the process. The union asked Mosby to recuse herself from the case, in part because she has a personal relationship with Billy Murphy, the attorney for Gray's family, and because she is married to Nick Mosby, the city councilman who represents the district in which Gray was arrested.

Nick Mosby, who was at Pennsylvania and North after his wife's announcement, declined to comment on the charges.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was "sickened and heartbroken" listening to Mosby read the statement of charges. She said she told police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts to suspend the officers without pay.

Gov. Larry Hogan called for calm and expressed faith in the state's criminal justice system. Thousands of National Guardsmen remained deployed in the city.

Nonessential city and state employees who work downtown were granted liberal leave.

Joyce Green, a community leader who works with officers in the Police Department's Central District, said the actions of which the officers are accused are "absolutely wrong."

But she said people shouldn't lose sight of the good work being done by police.

"We have officers in schools reading to kids. We have officers mentoring kids," she said. "It's still officers out here doing great things."

On the streets of Baltimore, there seemed to be little other than celebration for the officers being charged — mixed with a bit of skepticism that they will be sentenced appropriately or even found guilty.

Meech Tucker, 23, wore an "I Bleed Baltimore" shirt Friday in the Gilmor Homes neighborhood. He said Mosby didn't go far enough.

"They should be charged with first-degree murder," he said. "If it was one of us doing that against a police officer, it would be first-degree murder."

But 25-year-old Nikko Caldwell, said he was "extremely satisfied."

"At least [the officers] get a chance to go through what we go through when we get charges," he said.

A diverse crowd of hundreds, including Latino, Jewish and labor groups, marched Friday afternoon from Mosby's office on East Baltimore Street to City Hall.

Rachel Wilkinson, 41, drew "Thank you! Mosby" and a hand-drawn picture of the state's attorney on a poster.

"I think Mosby was brave in doing what she did, but I think it was the only thing to do," Wilkinson said.

Paul Herring, 31, said he was "overjoyed" to hear the charges.

"Growing up in Baltimore, there's always been a clear division in race and where you live, east and west," he said. "This is the first time I've seen Baltimore united as one. The movement doesn't stop here."

At Gilmor Homes, people whooped and swept each other into hugs.

Among them was Kevin Moore, who filmed a portion of Gray's arrest. The footage went viral.

"I'm exuberant. I'm happy. I'm every positive word you can think of," he said. "I finally made a difference in the world."

Richard Davis, 48, discussed Gray's death with friends nearby.

"It's sad that it had to take this for the government to wake up, but I think it's going to make the city stronger," he said. "The Baltimore City police are going to learn from this, too."

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Julie Scharper, Carrie Wells, Justin George, Michael Dresser, Doug Donovan, Pamela Wood, Scott Dance and Elisha Sauers contributed to this article.

krector@baltsun.com

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