The 45-Minute Mystery in the Death of Freddie Gray
Investigators with the city police and other agencies are still trying to recreate the events that caused Gray to sustain a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.
By Kevin Rector
When Freddie Gray briefly locked eyes with police at 8:39 a.m. on a corner of an impoverished West Baltimore neighborhood two weeks ago, they seemed to recognize each other immediately. As three officers approached on bicycles along West North Avenue, the 25-year-old Gray was on the east corner of North Mount Street chatting with a friend, according to Shawn Washington, who frequents the block.
"Ay, yo, here comes Time Out," a young man on the opposite corner yelled, using a neighborhood term for police.
Gray swore, taking off on foot as the officers began hot-stepping on their pedals to catch up. One officer jumped off his bike to chase Gray on foot, police said.
"That was the last time I seen that man moving," said Washington, 48.
Investigators with the city police and other agencies are still trying to recreate the events of the next 45 minutes, when Gray sustained a severe and ultimately fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.
But in its own investigation, The Baltimore Sun found that police missed the opportunity to examine some evidence that could have shed light on events. For example, by the time police canvassed one neighborhood looking for video from security cameras, a convenience store camera pointed at a key intersection had already taped over its recordings of that morning.
The Sun also found that accounts from residents conflicted with the official version of events, including a police account that Gray's arrest was made "without force or incident."
City officials have released a partial timeline of the events of April 12, and investigators have focused on his stop-and-go, roundabout trip through the city in the metal cage of a police transport van. A lieutenant, a sergeant and four other officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport have been suspended with pay pending the results of the police investigation.
Still, much of what happened to Gray on the cool, partly cloudy and breezeless morning of April 12 remains a mystery.
Officials have declined to provide 911 call recordings related to Gray's arrest or injury, citing the open investigation, and police have declined to provide dispatch recordings that would contain any conversations between officers and dispatchers while Gray was in custody. The timeline for when and where the van stopped remains incomplete, and no time has been provided for the van's last stop, back on North Avenue for another pickup before its arrival at the Western District police station.
Insights into the critical minutes between Gray's arrest and the call for paramedics can be gleaned from residents who said they observed several interactions the police had with him.
Taken collectively, they make clear that Gray's arrest and transport were perceived as being wholly out of the ordinary _ even in an area where the drug trade makes an arrest a common occurrence.
The reason Gray was chased by police remains unclear. Police have said it came in part because he ran, raising officers' suspicions in an area known for drug dealing. A police report on the arrest states that Gray "fled unprovoked" and that an illegal switchblade knife was later found on him but provides no other reason for the pursuit.
Neighborhood accounts vary on where Gray ran before reaching Presbury Street and being apprehended by police.
Washington said Gray dipped into "the cut" just south of West North Avenue, an alley that breaks into several directions in the center of a partially boarded-up block of rowhouses. It's a place strewn with broken liquor bottles, and adjacent to backyards where dogs still keep watch. Others say Gray ran straight south down Mount Street.
Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said Friday that one officer on foot and two on bikes chased Gray "through several streets, several housing complexes," before arresting him. "It's a foot chase and it's a long one."
Still, the arrest occurred just one minute after the initial contact, according to the police timeline.
Community outrage over the arrest has been fueled by videos showing Gray _ listed on the police report at 5-foot-8 and 145 pounds _ on the ground before being dragged to the police van. Neighborhood residents and police agree that the videos don't show the whole story, though.
Kevin Moore, a 28-year-old friend of Gray's from Gilmor Homes, said he rushed outside when he heard Gray was being arrested and saw him "screaming for his life" with his face planted on the ground. One officer had his knee on Gray's neck, Moore said, and another was bending his legs backward.
"They had him folded up like he was a crab or a piece of origami," Moore said. "He was all bent up."
At 8:42 a.m., police requested a transport van at the scene. At that point Gray, who had asthma, asked for an inhaler, but Moore said police ignored the request.
Batts has said Gray's trouble breathing was not given the proper attention at "one or two" of the van's subsequent stops.
As Gray screamed and word spread, residents began to pour out of nearby homes. Alethea Booze, 71, who has lived along Mount Street just north of Presbury all her life, said she was cooking in her kitchen when she heard Gray "hollering" outside. Booze, a retired Northrop Grumman production coordinator, had a stroke some years ago and moves slowly, but made it outside nonetheless.
A crowd had started to form, she said, and there was Gray, who used to call her "Mama" and run errands for her to the corner store, lying handcuffed on the ground.
Booze said she winced as police hoisted Gray. His legs appeared broken to her, though police have said Gray suffered no broken bones. Bystanders got more vocal. "Call the ambulance!" Booze remembers saying as police tried to disperse the crowd.
"Police were telling everyone to leave because they didn't want anyone taping," Booze said. "They got real smart and nasty."
At least three cameras mounted on the Gilmor Homes buildings overlook the location, along a low stone wall on the edge of a courtyard. Police have released some footage, but it showed little of the arrest.
In a bystander's video, Gray is shown being pulled to the van, his feet dragging, before standing briefly on his own as he's placed inside the van.
Police said he was upset _ but also breathing and talking.
Michael Robertson, 27, said his friend _ who had a record of drug arrests _ ran because he "had a history with that police beating him."
One block south and four minutes later, at 8:46 a.m. at Mount and Baker streets, the van stopped because Gray was acting "irate," police said. Police also have said that paperwork had to be filled out, though they have not provided more detail.
Gray was taken out of the van so officers could place leg shackles on him. Police have said he was not buckled into the van with a seat belt afterward, even though that is required by department policy.
Shouts at the scene brought Tobias Sellers and others running down the street.
Sellers, 59, who is Booze's brother and lives on the same block, said he was among those who started moving toward Gray, and saw police beating him. "They were taking their black batons, whatever they are, and hitting him," Sellers said.
Police have said that a preliminary report on Gray's autopsy showed he had no injuries except to his spinal cord. No evidence of kicks, punches or other beatings. No evidence of broken limbs.
Four cameras mounted on the Gilmor Homes buildings overlook the Mount and Baker intersection, but footage released by police has shown little of the officers' interactions with Gray. Police have promised to release more video as it becomes available.
At 8:59 a.m., as the van headed toward Central Booking, the driver called for an officer to "check on" Gray.
Police said an officer did respond and had "some communication" with Gray at the intersection of Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, though they have not described that interaction in detail and have said there is no surveillance footage. Batts said officers called to the van had to "pick (Gray) up off the floor and place him on the seat," but he declined to elaborate.
Deputy Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said police still need to determine what Gray's condition was at the intersection and whether the police response during the encounter was appropriate.
The intersection near McCulloh Homes is busy at times. Nearby, the G&A Food Market sits across the street from the Union Baptist Head Start; both have security cameras trained on the street.
One of the market's cameras points toward the intersection where police said the van stopped. Cindy Wang, 28, who works at the market, said police arrived there on Monday, April 20 _ the day after Gray's death but eight days after his arrest _ to inquire about the camera's footage.
By then it was gone.
"They were kind of late, because the camera only had a six-day record," Wang said. "If they came the second day or third day, they could have found it."
The camera on the Head Start building faces Druid Hill, not the intersection. Gayle E. Headen, director of the Head Start center, said a detective arrived there on April 20 and asked to review the footage, without giving a reason. "I didn't think anything of it," Headen said, noting that police have been interested in the footage for drug investigations in the past.
The detective asked to watch the footage from 8:55 a.m. to 9 a.m., and saw a police cruiser pass by at the 8:57 mark but no van, said Headen, who personally took the officer through the footage.
In fact, the footage shows a white van with a blue stripe down its side _ like those on police vans _ passing by at the 8:54:32 a.m. mark, according to The Baltimore Sun's review of the footage. The police cruiser, with its lights flashing, drives by about three minutes later.
During the Druid Hill and Dolphin stop, a call came through asking the van driver to return to the 1600 block of W. North Ave. _ not far from the spot where Gray and police first made eye contact _ to pick up another person. Such vans are divided by a metal barrier, and the second person was loaded into the section of the van not occupied by Gray. Police have not described any interaction with Gray at this location.
They have declined to identify the second person placed in the van, saying they need to "protect the integrity" of the criminal investigation into Gray's death, in which that person is now a witness. After the pickup, the van headed south again _ but this time it was headed for the Western District police station rather than Central Booking. When Gray was taken out of the van, Rodriguez said, "he could not talk and he could not breathe."
Beyond damage to his spinal cord, Gray had a crushed voice box. At 9:24 a.m., officers called a medic to the Western District station, reporting that Gray was in "serious medical distress." The Baltimore Fire Department said the call arrived at 9:26 a.m. Paramedics responded, spent 21 minutes treating Gray at the station, and arrived at Maryland Shock Trauma Center _ where Gray would fall into a coma and die a week later _ at 10 a.m.
Of the six suspended officers _ Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White, and Officers William Porter, Garrett Miller, Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson Jr. _ five have provided statements to police officials. Police have not said which officer has refused. The police union has defended the actions of all those involved.
(Catherine Rentz of The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.)
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