On April 12, 2015, Freddie Carlos Gray, Jr., a 25-year-old African-American man, was arrested by the Baltimore Police Department for possessing what the police alleged was an illegal switchblade. While being transported in a police van, Gray fell into a coma and was taken to a trauma center. Gray died on April 19, 2015; his death was ascribed to injuries to his spinal cord. On April 21, 2015, pending an investigation of the incident, six Baltimore police officers were suspended with pay.
Prior to this event, Gray had a history of possession and distribution of drugs and major crimes; at least 18 documented cases dating back to 2008. The circumstances of the injuries were initially unclear; eyewitness accounts suggested that the officers involved used unnecessary force against Gray during the arrest—a claim denied by all officers involved. Other eyewitness accounts suggest that Gray’s injuries were self inflected, presumably from a “crash and cash” scam in which Gray had a history of as well. Commissioner Anthony W. Batts reported that, contrary to department policy, the officers did not secure him inside the van while driving to the police station; this policy had been put into effect six days prior to Gray’s arrest, following review of other transport-related injuries sustained during police custody in the city, and elsewhere in the country during the preceding years. The medical investigation found that Gray had sustained the injuries while in transport.
On May 1, 2015, the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby, announced her office had filed charges against six police officers after the medical examiner’s report ruled Gray’s death a homicide. There had been speculation that Gray died as a result of a ‘rough ride’—a form of police brutality in which Gray may have been thrown around the interior of a police vehicle by deliberately abrupt police driving, unable to protect himself due to handcuffs or other restraints. (Rough rides were already implicated in deaths, paralysis, and severe spinal injuries in several other cases.)
The prosecutors stated that they had probable cause to file criminal charges against the six police officers who were believed to be involved in his death. The officer driving the van was charged with second-degree “depraved-heart” murder for his indifference to the considerable risk that Gray might be killed, and others were charged with crimes ranging from manslaughter to illegal arrest. In a later rebuttal to allegations that the knife was illegal, prosecutors argued that Gray was illegally arrested well before the officers knew that he possessed a knife, and without probable cause. On May 21, a grand jury indicted the officers on most of the original charges filed by Mosby with the exception of the charges of illegal imprisonment and false arrest, and added charges of reckless endangerment to all the officers involved.
Gray’s hospitalization and subsequent death resulted in an ongoing series of protests. On April 25, 2015, a major protest in downtown Baltimore turned violent, resulting in 34 arrests and injuries to 15 police officers. After Gray’s funeral on April 27, civil disorder intensified with looting and burning of local businesses and a CVS drug store, culminating with a state of emergency declaration by Governor Larry Hogan, Maryland National Guard deployment to Baltimore, and the establishment of a curfew. On May 3, the National Guard started withdrawing from Baltimore, and the night curfew on the city was lifted.
Police encountered Freddie Gray on the morning of April 12, 2015, in the street near Baltimore’s Gilmor Homes housing project, an area known to have high levels of home foreclosures, poverty, drug deals and violent crimes. According to the charging documents submitted by the Baltimore police, at 8:39 a.m Lieutenant Brian W. Rice, Officer Edward Nero, and Officer Garrett E. Miller were patrolling on bicycles and “made eye contact” with Gray, who proceeded to flee on foot “unprovoked upon noticing police presence”. Gray was apprehended after a brief foot chase, and was taken into custody “without the use of force or incident”, according to Officer Garret Miller, who wrote he “noticed a knife clipped to the inside of his [Gray’s] front right pocket”. In the formal statement of charges, Officer Miller alleged Gray “did unlawfully carry, possess, and sell a knife commonly known as a switch blade knife, with an automatic spring or other device for opening and/or closing the blade within the limits of Baltimore City. The knife was recovered by this officer and found to be a spring assisted one hand operated knife.” The state’s attorney for Baltimore City said the spring-assisted knife Gray was carrying was legal under Maryland law, while a police task force said the knife was a violation of the Baltimore code under which Gray was charged.