Freddie Gray death: Questions many, answers few, emotions high in Baltimore

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Credit: Family of Freddie Gray

(CNN) – Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died after his lawyer says his neck was partially severed and he lapsed into a coma while in police custody, was arrested “without force or incident” on a weapon charge, according to documents obtained Monday.

While the court documents allege that Baltimore Police Department Officer Garrett Miller arrested Gray after finding a switchblade in his pocket, the Gray family attorney called the allegation a “sideshow.” Gray was carrying a “pocket knife of legal size,” attorney William Murphy told CNN.

Police never saw the knife and chased Gray only after he took off running, the attorney said.

That seems substantiated by the court documents, which said Gray “fled unprovoked upon noticing police presence.”

“The officer noticed a knife clipped to the inside of his front right pants pocket. The defendant was arrested without force or incident,” the documents say. “The knife was recovered by this officer and found to be a spring assisted, one-hand-operated knife.”

Maryland law makes it illegal to “wear or carry a dangerous weapon of any kind concealed on or about the person,” including switchblades.

Timeline sparks questions

Gray’s death Sunday, following a week of hospitalization, has spurred outrage. At a Monday morning protest outside the Baltimore Police Department, demonstrators co-opted slogans from other high-profile police shootings. They chanted — “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” and “I can’t breathe!” — and carried signs saying, “Stop police terror” and “Black lives matter.”

Sharon Black, one of the rally’s organizers, said police misconduct is routine in Baltimore, and described Gray’s death as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“The police act in an unrestrained and abusive way,” she said.

In this story

  • Lawyer calls police claim that Freddie Gray was carrying switchblade a "sideshow"
  • Rap sheet shows history of drug arrests, second-degree assault arrest last month
  • Gray was in perfect health until police chased and tackled him, his lawyer says

Gray was in perfect health until police chased and tackled him in Baltimore over a week ago, his lawyer said. Less than an hour later, he was on his way to a trauma clinic with a spinal injury, where he fell into a coma.

On Monday, police may reveal details of what happened to him when they hold an afternoon news conference.

Two witnesses hit record on their cell phones during what looked to be the 25-year-old’s arrest. Police told CNN affiliate WJZ that they also have surveillance video of him.

But there appears to be a gap of some minutes left to account for. Police, according to their own timeline, spotted Gray, gave chase, caught him, cuffed him and requested a paddy wagon in fewer than 4 minutes. The transport van left with Gray about 11 minutes after that, police said, and another 30 minutes passed before “units request paramedics to the Western District to transport the suspect to an area hospital.”

Gray died Sunday, a full week after the encounter.

Police encounter

When cell phones began recording, Gray was already on the ground with three officers kneeling over him. And he let out long, painful screams.

Officers had encountered him a minute earlier, police said. They were working an area where drug deals and other crimes are common, Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said.

They thought Gray may have been involved in a crime, but there was no evidence that he committed a crime, Gray family attorney William Murphy Jr. said, and WJZ reported last week that police had not said what their suspicion was.

“Officers were working in an area that is known for violent crime and drug sales. Officers went to make an encounter with Mr. Gray when he fled from them,” Baltimore Police Department spokesman, Capt. Eric Kowalczyk, said Sunday.

Pressed on why police initially stopped Gray, Kowalczyk said the department hadn’t released that information because investigators are still conducting interviews.

Painful wailing

When officers approached Gray, he ran. They pursued and caught him quickly, at 8:40 a.m., according to a police timeline.

The officers called for a prisoner transport van. Cell phone video taken from two separate positions showed officers lifting Gray, whose hands were cuffed, up by his shoulders and dragging him to the back of the van.

He legs dangled behind him listlessly as he wailed.

Officers put more restraints on Gray inside the van, police said, while surveillance video recorded him conscious and talking. The video has not been released to the public.

The 30 minutes

That was at 8:54 a.m.

At 9:24 a.m., police called an ambulance to pick Gray up at the Western District police station. Murphy wants to know what happened in those 30 minutes in between.

The ambulance took Gray to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s Shock Trauma Center.

“He lapsed into a coma, died, was resuscitated, stayed in a coma and on Monday underwent extensive surgery at Shock Trauma to save his life,” Murphy said. “He clung to life for seven days.”

Tubes, wires and supports protruded from Gray as he lay in his hospital bed in a photo Murphy passed on to the media.

Frustration and questions

Police have not released the incident report or said how many officers participated in Gray’s arrest. The officers have been placed on administrative duty, they said.

Murphy has accused police not releasing details of Gray’s treatment by officers to cover for them.

On the evening of Gray’s death, Baltimore’s mayor, police commissioner and deputy commissioner promised to get to the bottom of the case.

“I understand the frustration of the community,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “I want citizens to know exactly how it happened, and if necessary, I will ensure that we hold the right people accountable.”

Officers and Gray investigated

But no one promised quick answers.

Rawlings-Blake said that she wants to see a thorough inquiry and that the city will release additional details as investigations are completed.

There will be two criminal investigations, said Deputy Commissioner Rodriguez: one to determine if the arresting officers broke the law, and one that pertains to Gray.

Police have not grilled the arresting officers on what happened for legal reasons, Rodriguez said.

“We cannot interview an officer administratively and compel them, if an officer is the subject of the criminal investigation. Every person has the right against self-incrimination, so for us to compel an officer to provide a statement, that could potentially taint the criminal investigation,” he said.

Investigators will submit their results to an independent review board, he said. There will also be a separate administrative investigation.

Family declined meeting

Police officials have attempted to speak with Gray’s relatives to explain the investigation process, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said.

But they have declined to meet.

“A mother has lost her son,” Batts said, extending his condolences to the family.

He hopes that in interactions between police and residents, everyone goes home safely, he said. “All lives matter.”

Gray had a long history of run-ins with the law. A search of his name brings up more than 20 cases in the Maryland judiciary going back to 2007. They’re mostly drug-related charges, though he was charged with second-degree assault, according to court documents.

He also spent a month in prion in 2013 for drug possession, and he was due in court Friday on another possession charge, Shields said.

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