More than two weeks after Baltimore police arrested Freddie Gray, they leaked a document to the Washington Post suggesting that the 25-year-old man killed himself, basing that speculation on statements from an unnamed inmate who was also in the van with Gray, but sitting handcuffed on the other side of the van, separated by a metal partition that does not allow visibility.
But the report was quickly disputed by investigative reporter Jayne Miller from WBAL-TV, who has been reporting on this story from the beginning.
And it is being doubted by hundreds of readers leaving comments on Peter Hermann’s article in the Washington Post, which stated the following.
A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself,” according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.
The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate’s safety.
The document, written by a Baltimore police investigator, offers the first glimpse of what might have happened inside the van. It is not clear whether any additional evidence backs up the prisoner’s version, which is just one piece of a much larger probe.
Miller was interviewed on MSNBC shortly after the article was posted, saying that her station was aware of this document, but never reported on it because it did not correlate with the timeline they had compiled. She also pointed out that Police Commissioner Anthony Batts had previously stated that Gray was already unresponsive when the second suspect was placed into the van.
But the story that Gray was responsible for his own death is something that has been making the rounds on social media, including from a Baltimore police detective named Avi Tasher who made the claim on Facebook last weekend, only to shut down his page after backlash from critics as we reported here.
Tasher, whose nickname within the department is Taser because he is so quick to use it on suspects, and who might be the “police investigator” described in the Washington Post’s story, stated the following on Facebook Saturday night:
Then there was Henry Mack III, both a Baltimore Ravens cheerleader as well as a Baltimore police cheerleader, who tweeted the following to the Baltimore Sun a few days earlier:
So it’s obvious police have been trying to push this narrative for a while, only for it to be ignored by the Baltimore media.
But somehow they got the Washington Post to bite.
The van driver stopped three times while transporting Gray to a booking center, the first to put him in leg irons. Batts said the officer driving the van described Gray as “irate.” The search warrant application says Gray “continued to be combative in the police wagon.”
The driver made a second stop, five minutes later, and asked an officer to help check on Gray. At that stop, police have said the van driver found Gray on the floor of the van and put him back on the seat, still without restraints. Police said Gray asked for medical help at that point.
The third stop was to put the other prisoner — a 38-year-old man accused of violating a protective order — into the van. The van was then driven six blocks to the Western District station. Gray was taken from there to a hospital, where he died April 19.
The prisoner, who is in jail, could not be reached for comment. No one answered the phone at his house, and an attorney was not listed in court records.
Batts has said officers violated policy by failing to properly restrain Gray. But the president of the Baltimore police union noted that the policy mandating seat belts took effect April 3 and was e-mailed to officers as part of a package of five policy changes on April 9, three days before Gray was arrested.
Gene Ryan, the police union president, said many officers aren’t reading the new policies – updated to meet new national standards – because they think they’re the same rules they already know, with only cosmetic changes. The updates are supposed to be read out during pre-shift meetings.
The previous policy was written in 1997, when the department used smaller, boxier wagons that officers called “ice cream trucks.” They originally had a metal bar that prisoners had to hold during the ride. Seat belts were added later, but the policy left their use discretionary.
There are many questions that arise from the claims by police, but here are just a few. I’m sure more will be asked in the comments section.
- If it it were true that Gray was responsible for his own death, then why not just say that from the beginning?
- Why haven’t doctors mentioned injuries consistent with “smashing his head into the wall repeatedly,” instead of just saying he died of a severed spine and crushed voice box, the latter which is more consistent with a knee to the neck?
- Wouldn’t those injuries be visible during an open-casket funeral?
- Did police intimidate or offer a deal to the inmate to write those words on the document?
UPDATE: Peter Hermann, who wrote the story for the Post, called PINAC less than an hour ago, leaving a message, thanking us for the lead in the story as you can hear below. Heavy also found a new photo of Avi Tasher, the cop that most likely leaked this document to the Post.