Baltimore Sun’s BEST party in 2 weeks

Rawlings-Blake: 'Confusion' remains over who ordered buses shut down before riot

Who ordered buses shut down amid Baltimore riot? 'Confusion' remains, mayor says.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that she and other city leaders are still not sure who ordered state-run buses and a subway to be shut down the day rioting broke out near Mondawmin Mall.

"There's still some confusion about where the order came from," Rawlings-Blake said. "It definitely came in real time from the ground at Mondawmin."

Some, including local teachers, have suggested that the decision to shut down public transportation near the mall April 27, the day of Freddie Gray's funeral, escalated tensions because students were stranded with no ride home from school. Rioting later erupted across the city.

The mayor said she was not consulted about shutting down public transportation.

"I was made aware in real time that it was done," she said. "We did not have a discussion, where I was, about if this should happen. I remember trying to get to the bottom of it. [The Maryland Transit Administration] is saying schools said it. The schools say the police suggested we shut it down."

City school officials have said about 75 students left Frederick Douglass High School about 3 p.m., an hour before dismissal. By that time, city police had taken up positions in riot gear across the street at Mondawmin Mall. Posts on social media had said there would be a "purge" — a play on the name of a movie about a 12-hour period of lawlessness.

Many students hurled bricks at the police and yelled slogans such as "the purge" and "Justice for Freddie." Some officers threw objects back at the students.

The MTA suspended bus and subway service at Mondawmin that afternoon; a spokesman for the MTA said police requested that it do so. City police have referred questions about the hub shutdown to the MTA.

Schools CEO Gregory Thornton has said he was in key meetings with the mayor and the governor during that week but was "completely caught off guard" by the decision to shut down the buses.

School officials said thousands of students were stranded. Educators had to walk special-needs students to bus stops blocks away, and teachers and school police offered other students rides.

Rawlings-Blake said Wednesday that she does not believe it was a bad decision to shut down public transportation in the area. She said the Police Executive Research Forum is conducting a review of the riot that could provide answers.

"I'm concerned that so many young people, with you would hope better home training, got into the melee that they did," the mayor said. "What we're talking about with the buses is just one of a series of bad options. ... Let's say they're open: What happens if that melee goes onto the subway tracks? What happens if somebody fell on the subway tracks? It was just a bad, bad situation."

More than 5,000 students transfer at the Mondawmin hub every day. Shortly after the riot, then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts noted that on the afternoon of April 27, hundreds of Baltimore officers on the scene blocked traffic as they responded to the rioting.

"What I saw was buses were just stopping. Instead of taking kids around, they started dumping kids off. You had kids all over the place, roaming around," he said. "Buses would have rolled into rocks being thrown, bricks being thrown. The decision was a sound decision."

Batts said a commander in the field could have given the order. "Those commanders are autonomous," he said. "They don't have to get an OK from the chain of command. I expect my command to make independent decisions out there."

Rick Binetti, then the MTA spokesman, said in April that the Mondawmin Metro and bus stations were closed at 2:57 p.m. at the request of Baltimore police. After that, buses and trains did not stop there.

"The Baltimore city police asked us to shut the station down," he said. "That's what we did."

Rawlings-Blake said she's asked the police department to come up with a strategy for better communication between agenices should civil unrest flare up again near Mondawmin.

"We’re not waiting" for an after-action report to be finished, the mayor said. "I’ve asked the Baltimore Police Department, before the school year starts, to come up with a coordinated strategy for how they, the school police, the schools themselves, and the MTA police, and my office, how we will have a more seamless response if we’re ever in that situation again."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

twitter.com/lukebroadwater

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
59°