What happened in that van?

Justice Department opens probe into death of Baltimore man in police custody

BY DOUG DONOVAN AND MARK PUENTE
BALTIMORE SUN/TNS

Amid the public outcry over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, the U.S. Department of Justice is opening an investigation into the incident.

150424_nation04“The Department of Justice has been monitoring the developments in Baltimore, MD, regarding the death of Freddie Gray,” spokeswoman Dena Iverson said in a statement. “Based on preliminary information, the Department of Justice has officially opened this matter and is gathering information to determine whether any prosecutable civil rights violation occurred.”

The announcement came minutes after several members of Maryland’s congressional delegation asked the Justice Department to open a criminal and civil rights investigation into the death.

Their request Tuesday comes amid growing public protests in Baltimore over Gray’s death, apparently from injuries he suffered while in police custody.

‘We need answers’
His April 19 death and local demonstrations have brought international attention to Baltimore at a time of increasing outrage about how police in the United States treat African-American men.

“Freddie Gray’s family and the residents of the city of Baltimore deserve to know what happened to him while he was in police custody. We need answers,” Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin and Reps. Elijah Cummings, C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.

“While we support the efforts of the ongoing review into the policies and procedures of the Baltimore Police Department by the Community Oriented Policing Services Office, we request that the Department of Justice open a federal criminal and civil rights investigation into the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.”

Transported in van
Gray, 25, suffered a broken vertebra after he was arrested April 12 near Gilmor Homes in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore.

Police said Monday that Gray was injured while he was being transported by van to a district station.

They said the injuries were not consistent with the use of force.

“While the vast majority of police officers act within the law to serve and protect their communities, incidents like this degrade the trust necessary to maintain the relationship between law enforcement and communities,” the lawmakers wrote. “We urge the Department of Justice to swiftly conduct all necessary investigations. We need the facts to restore the public confidence in the Baltimore Police Department.”

As details of Gray’s death emerged, community leaders and lawmakers called on the Department of Justice this week to open a civil rights investigation in addition to the ongoing review the department is conducting of the police department.

Collaborative review urged
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts asked the Justice Department in October to conduct a “collaborative review” of the city police department. The request came after The Baltimore Sun reported that the city had paid $5.7 million in court judgments and settlements in 102 civil suits alleging police brutality since 2011.

Nearly all of the victims in the incidents that sparked the lawsuits were cleared of criminal charges.

The Sun found that some city officers were involved in multiple lawsuits, and there were significant gaps in the systems used to monitor police misconduct.

The collaborative review is being conducted by Hillard Heintze, a Chicago-based consulting firm that is examining the Police Department’s use-of-force reports and investigations, training procedures and policies.

At a recent public hearing, hundreds of city residents, most of them Black, complained to the consultants about harassment, beatings and other mistreatment by city police.

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