The Baltimore police department has suspended six police officers with pay after the death of a man from an injury he allegedly sustained while in police custody sparked protests in the area. Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died on Sunday from severe spinal injuries.
Officials determined that Gray had a serious injury to his spinal cord, but it is not yet clear how the injury occurred. The police department is expected to finish its probe by May 1 and submit the findings to the city’s chief prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby. Gray’s family has said that he was healthy before the arrest while his lawyer has said that Gray's "spine was 80 percent severed at his neck," according to the Associated Press (AP). The incident follows a spate of officer-involved killings of black men across the country.
“I can assure the public that my office has dedicated all its existing resources to independently investigate this matter to determine whether criminal charges will be brought,” Mosby said, in a statement, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said, according to AP: "There were several times he made a medical request," adding: "He asked for an inhaler, and at one or two of the stops it was noticed that he was having trouble breathing and we probably should have asked for paramedics."
Protests began in the area on Saturday, hours before his death, with people demanding to know more about what had caused the injury and why Gray was arrested. Reports have said that he started running after seeing police officials approaching him, while one of the officers reportedly claimed to have seen a switchblade knife in his pocket.
"We are a community on edge right now. We hear, I hear, the outrage. I hear the concern and I hear the fear," Batts reportedly said, asking people to remain calm, adding: "We are on edge as a city, and I need your help to make sure we get this out in the proper way."
Gray was arrested from a West Baltimore neighborhood known for drug activity, on April 12, and had requested for an inhaler shortly after being taken into a van to be transported to a police station. Officials had said that he was “acting irate” inside the van because of which he was put in leg irons. After 40 minutes of his request for an inhaler, police officers called for medical assistance. Gray was taken to a hospital, where he went through a surgery and lapsed into a coma. He died on Sunday, officials said, according to the Journal.
“I know when Mr. Gray was placed inside that van, he was able to talk,” Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said at a news conference on Monday, according to AP, adding: “When Mr. Gray was taken out of that van, he could not talk and he could not breathe.”