Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore Officials Prepare for Whitewash of Police Killing of Freddie Grey
New York Times
APRIL 29, 2015

BALTIMORE — An edgy peace held sway here Wednesday as a huge crowd took to the streets again Wednesday night and the mayor and the police sought to tamp down expectations that residents would learn details on Friday about how a young black man died after being injured in police custody.

Fears ran high that the end of the week could return this city to the violence spurred by the still-unexplained death of the man, Freddie Gray, 25 — particularly if people think they will get answers, but do not. Speculation about the possible release of some or all of the findings has fueled expectations that the public will learn much more about the case that day.

But the mayor, the police commissioner, a large group of prominent clergymen and a lawyer for Mr. Gray’s family emerged from a meeting Wednesday to give a united warning against expecting any revelations on Friday, when the Police Department has said it will turn its findings over to the state’s attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn J. Mosby, who will decide whether to seek criminal charges. Six officers have been suspended in the episode.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said she would like information to be released as soon as possible, but said Wednesday after talking with Mr. Gray’s relatives that justice matters more than speed. “Whatever time the state’s attorney needs to make that determination, the family wants to get it right,” she said.

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, who delivered Mr. Gray’s eulogy on Monday, said he had spent the morning visiting high schools, trying to debunk “a rumor going through the high schools that somehow or other, there was a verdict coming on Friday.”

A lawyer for the Gray family, Hassan Murphy, said that the Grays did not want a repeat of the arson, rock-throwing and looting seen Monday night. “They are terribly disappointed at what happened,” Mr. Murphy said.

People venturing outside on Wednesday found a weary, wary Baltimore, punctuated by one jarring scene after another. Protesters milled in the middle of intersections devoid of traffic and chatted with police officers in riot gear, workers cleaned up debris left by the rioting, and televisions showed the Orioles playing baseball in an empty stadium, kept clear of fans for security reasons. Most surreal of all was the image of armed National Guard troops in camouflage-painted vehicles joining the police in patrolling the city.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Gov. Larry Hogan warned, even as crowds gathered in the streets not only in Baltimore but also in several other major cities, including Washington and Boston.

Like the Baltimore civic leaders, the state’s attorney’s office also tried to lower expectations.

Receiving the police report is just part of the investigation process by the state’s attorney, said Rochelle Ritchie, the communications director for Ms. Mosby. “When the state’s attorney comes out and gives something, it’s going to be something substantial,” Ms. Ritchie said. “You’re not going to see little bits and pieces here and there. When it is time to come forward, we will do that. I can’t say when it’s going to be.”

The state chief medical examiner’s office has also warned that preparing an autopsy report usually takes 60 to 90 days. Even after the investigations finish, the prosecutor’s office, if it decides to seek charges, must present the case to a grand jury and ask for an indictment. If there are to be criminal charges, they probably remain months away.

Officials said another potential flash point is a demonstration planned for Saturday, organized by Malik Z. Shabazz, an activist who has likened the police to an occupation force. He has predicted a turnout of up to 10,000 people.

Mr. Shabazz said he planned to meet with city officials on Thursday “to make sure Saturday happens without incident.”

The governor summoned the National Guard on Monday, after peaceful demonstrations gave way to violence following Mr. Gray’s funeral. Mr. Hogan said about 2,000 troops had been deployed, along with more than 1,000 officers sent by other police forces in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Joining the Baltimore Police Department’s 3,000 officers, they increased the uniformed security forces to roughly double their usual size.

“This combined force will not tolerate violence or looting,” Mr. Hogan said.

The day after chaos erupted across Baltimore, people who were assembled near a looted CVS drugstore discussed the violence.

Neither the governor nor the mayor was willing to predict when the troops might be sent home. The mayor said the situation on the streets remained “very fluid,” and one of her aides predicted that the Guard would be in the city for at least a week.

The show of strength Tuesday night, coupled with a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, helped restore some peace to areas where fires had raged and officers had been pelted with bottles and rocks the night before. Twenty officers were injured, and two of them remained in the hospital late Wednesday, officials said.

The Police Department said it had arrested 35 people between 10 p.m. Tuesday and late afternoon Wednesday, compared with 209 in the same period 24 hours earlier. At an evening news conference, the police commissioner, Anthony Batts, said the arrests Wednesday were of 18 people — 16 adults and two juveniles. No city police officers were injured on Wednesday, he said.

Mr. Batts also sought to add his voice to the tamping down of expectations that information about the police investigation into Mr. Gray’s injuries and death would be immediately revealed once the department turns over its investigative findings to Ms. Mosby on Friday.

“If you’re anticipating actions, the action will be turning the investigation over to the state’s attorney, and from there, they will take the ball,” Mr. Batts said.

The investigation into Mr. Gray’s death could prove to be a trial by fire for Ms. Mosby, who took office in January, days before turning 35, and promptly replaced much of the staff in state’s attorney’s office. Making her first election run last year, Ms. Mosby — whose husband, Nick, is a city councilman — drew the support of much of the black establishment and defeated the incumbent, Gregg L. Bernstein, in the Democratic primary.

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She ran primarily on a platform of being tougher on violent criminals, but she also promised to be harder than Mr. Bernstein had been on police abuses. “I’m going to apply justice fairly, even to those who wear a badge,” she said during the campaign.

After being closed for a day, city schools reopened on Wednesday. The afternoon release of thousands of students, which coincided with the start of the unrest Monday, went off without serious incident Wednesday, as did multiple demonstrations.

Sabrina McKoy, 35, who lives in northwest Baltimore, said she was pleased that the violence had dissipated for now, but was skeptical of the city’s plans to keep the curfew in place.

“I understand why they did it, but I don’t think it’s necessary,” she said. “To me, people just acted out for a few hours.”

The city has a long record of allegations of police brutality, resulting in millions of dollars paid out in lawsuits. But the April 12 arrest of Mr. Gray, parts of which were caught on video, drew a more heated reaction than any previous case.

Officers reported that Mr. Gray had not been suspected of a crime, but that he had made contact with one of them and then ran, and they pursued and caught him. Officers accused him of possessing an illegal switchblade knife, handcuffed him and put him into a van for a ride to a police station.

At some point, Mr. Gray suffered a severe neck injury, but the video does not make it clear when, clouding the crucial question of who, if anyone, might have been responsible for it. Six police officers have been suspended while the case is under investigation. At a minimum, the police have acknowledged, he should have received medical care sooner. Mr. Gray died on April 19.

Richard Pérez-Peña and John Surico contributed reporting from New York.

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