BALTIMORE: Baltimore's top prosecutor announced criminal charges on Friday against all six officers suspended after a black man suffered a fatal spinal injury in police custody, saying "no one is above the law." The mayor later said at least five were in custody.
Maryland state's attorney Marilyn Mosby declared that Freddie Gray's death was a homicide, his arrest was illegal, and his treatment in custody amounted to murder and manslaughter. Mosby announced the charges only hours after receiving the results of the internal police investigation and the autopsy report. As she spoke, the city was bracing for huge crowds in two more waves of protests Friday and Saturday against the latest case of an African-American to die at the hands of police.
Onlookers began to cheer and then express amazement over Mosby's announcement, which few expected so quickly.
"The findings of our comprehensive, thorough and independent investigation coupled with the medical examiner's determination that Mr. Gray's death was a homicide," Mosby said, "we have probable cause to file criminal charges."
Whoops, cheers and shouts of "Justice!" erupted on the courthouse steps and in the streets of Baltimore, which has faced nearly two weeks of growing anger over Freddie Gray's death.
"Mr Gray suffered a severe and critical neck injury as a result of being handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained inside of the BPD wagon," she said.
The stiffest charge — second-degree "depraved heart" murder — was filed against driver of the police van. The other five were charged with crimes including manslaughter, assault, false imprisonment and misconduct in office.
Fraternal Order of Police local president Gene Ryan told Mosby in a letter before the charges were announced Friday that none of the six suspended officers were responsible for Gray's death.
But Mosby said Gray was illegally arrested, assaulted, falsely accused of carrying an illegal weapon, and then hoisted, handcuffed, into the metal compartment of a police van without the seatbelt that all officers are told they must put on for safety of both detainees and officers.
The officers later failed to get medical help even though Gray requested it repeatedly, she said. At some point along the way, he suffered a mysterious spinal injury and died a week later.
Mosby said the illegal switchblade — which officer Garrett E Miller swore in a court record under penalty of perjury that he found clipped inside Gray's pants pocket after he was detained — was in fact a legal knife, and provided no justification for Gray's arrest.
She said Gray was assaulted by Miller, officer William G Porter, officer Edward M Nero, Lt Brian W Rice and Sgt Alicia D White. Each faces up to 10 years if convicted of second-degree assault.
The van driver, officer Caeser R Goodson, Jr, faces up to 30 years on the murder charge, and 10 years each for involuntary manslaughter, assault and "manslaughter by vehicle." All of the officers also face a charge of misconduct in office.
At least five were in custody, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said at an early afternoon news conference.
Mosby said she comes from five generations of police officers, that she respects and honors how police serve the people, and that this case should in no way damage the relationship between police and prosecutors in Baltimore.
She swiftly rejected a request from the Baltimore police officers union asking her to appoint a special independent prosecutor because of her ties to attorney Billy Murphy, who is representing Gray's family. Murphy was among Mosby's biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, $4,000, in June. Murphy also served on Mosby's transition team after the election.
The state medical examiner's office said it sent Gray's autopsy report to prosecutors Friday morning. Spokesman Bruce Goldfarb says the office of the chief state medical examiner will not release the report publicly while the case is under investigation.
In front of a fire station where governor Larry Hogan was scheduled to visit Friday, a man leaning out of a passing truck window pumped both arms in the air and yelled, "Justice! Justice! Justice!"
At the corner of North and Pennsylvania avenues, where the worst of the rioting took place on Monday, drivers honked their horns. When buses stopped in front of the subway station, people spilled out cheering as the doors opened.
There was no large gathering at the intersection immediately after the announcement, though: Nearly 100 police in riot gear were deployed, and for the moment, they had nothing to do.
Ciara Ford of Baltimore expressed surprise at the decision to prosecute.
"I'm ecstatic," she said. "I hope this can restore some peace."