If there’s one thing Baltimore police want to make clear to those watching how they investigate the death of Freddie Gray, it’s that they don't want the kind of public condemnation seen after other recent police-involved deaths of black men. “This is not Ferguson,” Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said this week during a news conference announcing that Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore resident, had died Sunday from injuries suffered after police arrested him April 12.
Holding news conferences and releasing the names of the officers involved -- in direct response to public outcry, as Baltimore officials have done -- are actions that police officials in Ferguson, Missouri, were criticized for not taking after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown last August. But that’s hardly an indication that Baltimore officials have turned the page on the city’s long history of police brutality allegations, which the mayor and police commissioner promised to address months ago.
“I understand the community's frustration. I understand it because I'm frustrated," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this week. "I'm frustrated ... not only that we're here, but we don't have all of the answers.”
Police said Gray died a week after suffering a broken vertebra following his arrest by Baltimore police. It remained unclear Tuesday why police pursued Gray, but he was later detained by several officers, who said Gray had been carrying a concealed switchblade.
Officers said Gray appeared angry, so they used leg restraints to immobilize him during transport to a police station in a police van. Police said they were investigating what or who caused Gray’s spinal injury. They also acknowledged that Gray asked for medical attention during the hours before he was hospitalized. Six police officers, whom officials named Tuesday, were suspended with pay Monday, pending the outcome of the investigation.
What hasn’t been disclosed in Baltimore authorities’ news conferences are details that the public might judge as demonizing the victim. Ferguson officials were criticized for how they released information following former Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Brown. When former Ferguson police Chief Thomas Jackson released Wilson's name, he also simultaneously released security camera footage that showed Brown, 18, allegedly stealing items from a convenience store. Brown, who was unarmed, later struggled with Wilson before he was killed.
But residents protesting Gray’s death have questioned how serious the city’s mayor and police commissioner are about changing a culture of policing that critics say emphasizes the use of force to subdue combative suspects and other members of the public.
Last October, Baltimore's mayor and police commissioner introduced a police brutality reduction plan that included a promise to equip officers with body cameras. A 41-page report outlining their plans came as the U.S. Department of Justice prepared to launch a lengthy review of brutality allegations against the city’s force of more than 3,000 police officers.
Baltimore, which has more than 622,000 residents, has had to settle several police brutality cases in recent years, local media reports said. In 2003, Albert Mosley was rendered quadriplegic during his arrest for a probation violation. Mosley, who police said got into an altercation with an officer at a police station, was thrown into a concrete wall of a holding cell. His family sued and was awarded $44 million in damages but, after the city’s appeal, settled for $6 million.
Other cases, although most of them less brutal, have been settled leading up to Gray’s case. These cases have included those of an 87-year-old woman, who settled with the city for $95,000, and a pregnant woman, who settled for $125,000, the Baltimore Sun reported. In 2012, a judge ruled police were wrong in beating Ashley Overbey when they responded to her home after she reported a burglary in progress. The city eventually settled her case for $63,000.