On Tuesday (September 12), the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it would not bring federal criminal charges against the six Baltimore Police Department (BPD) officers who were involved in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April 2015. The decision comes after the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office failed to gain convictions in trials for four of the officers, and eventually dropped all the charges.
The DOJ cited insufficient evidence to support charges. From the statement:
After an extensive review of this tragic event, conducted by career prosecutors and investigators, the Justice Department concluded that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Caesar Goodson, Officer William Porter, Officer Garrett Miller, Officer Edward Nero, Lieutenant Brian Rice or Sergeant Alicia White willfully violated Gray’s civil rights. Accordingly, the investigation into this incident has been closed without prosecution.
The Baltimore Sun talked to Hassan Murphy, an attorney for Gray’s family, yesterday (September 13) about the decision.
“This is a bitter pill for all of us to swallow,” Murphy said. “It is the end of a chapter, and it is a sad and tragic chapter that has left a trail both in this city and in this country of hurt feelings, injury and disgust. And it is unfortunate that it has ended without anyone being held accountable for Freddie’s death.”
Murphy said that he was “prepared to believe” the investigation would be “nothing more than a whitewash or political decision,” but that his interactions with the attorneys who worked on the case convinced him otherwise. “We have to admit that we left satisfied with the investigation undertaken by this particular group of lawyers at the Department of Justice, most or all of them holdovers from the Obama administration,” he said. “They were frank and forthright about the things they had done and the steps they had taken in this investigation.”
But he said that while the family respects the fact that the DOJ had limited jurisdiction and a high burden of proof to meet in this case, they “continue to believe that someone should be held accountable” for the death of the young man whose spine was severed during a “rough ride” in a police van.
Gray’s death sparked an uprising in the city, as Black Baltimoreans protested the violent, racist actions of local law enforcement. The officers were quickly indicted for their roles in his death, and the Obama-era DOJ opened an investigation into the BPD that concluded that it routinely violates the constitutional rights of Black people in the city.
In April, a federal judge approved a consent decree that would force BPD reforms, but the DOJ has been resistant to enforcing such decrees, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions arguing that they put officers at risk and that “it is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”