Baltimore Police Investigate Suspect's Fatal Spinal Cord Injury

Apr 21, 2015
Originally published on April 22, 2015 3:06 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Baltimore is a city on edge. Police say they still have more questions than answers about the death of a 25-year-old black man in their custody. Freddie Gray was arrested April 12. He suffered a severe spinal injury that led to his death a week later, but police say they don't know how or when the injury happened. NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports that six officers are suspended while police investigate.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: As with so many cases that have sparked protests, this one came to light after the release of a cellphone video from a bystander. It shows Gray on the ground. Police drag him by his arms, legs trailing. You can hear what sounds like cries of pain.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Screaming).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: [Expletive] Wait, his leg look broke. Look at his [expletive] leg.

LUDDEN: Around this point, police say Gray asked for an inhaler, but he didn't have one with him. Officers put him alone in the back of a van. A few minutes later, the driver reported that Gray was acting irate, so officers stopped to put him in leg shackles. Half an hour later, officers called for Gray to be taken to a shock trauma center. There's no video of that missing half hour, but Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez says there's no evidence officers assaulted Gray.

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JERRY RODRIGUEZ: There was no physical, bodily injury that we saw, nor was it evident in the autopsy of Mr. Gray. None of his limbs were broken.

LUDDEN: But Rodriguez says an autopsy Monday shows Gray had a nearly severed spinal cord.

BILLY MURPHY: That's real serious force. And it suggests that something happened to this man at the hands of the police.

LUDDEN: Billy Murphy is the attorney for Gray's family. He told Baltimore member station WYPR there's another outstanding question - why did police arrest Gray?

MURPHY: You just can't arrest somebody for running. We've already gotten driving while black. You got walking while black, and now there's running while black. It's terrible.

LUDDEN: A full police report is due late next week, but Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts says he's changing policy now.

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ANTHONY BATTS: Anytime someone requests medical attention in any context, immediately we are to respond to that.

LUDDEN: These are not the first allegations of misconduct against the department. The Baltimore Sun last fall found the city has paid millions in settlements to people who say they were beat up by police. Now the U.S. Justice Department says it will investigate Freddie Gray's death. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.