Baltimore Police: To indict, or not indict – that is the question.

By: Robert A. Bianchi, Esq.:

This is another case where police actions are being called into question. Freddie Gray was taken into custody, handcuffed, and shackled by his feet.

What we know now is that he was not belted or secured in the transport van which is against department policy and specifically designed to avoid serious injury and/or death.

Mr. Gray’s spine was allegedly 80% detached, and numerous vertebrae in this back were broken. It is assumed by some at this point that he may have been subjected to a “rough ride”- a term of art that suggests the police made purposeful and unnecessary sudden stops and sharp turns to throw the prisoner around the transport van where he was helpless because he was restrained.

So far, the police commissioner seems to be doing a good job handling the case and media, although I have great difficulty when a police agency is allowed to investigate their own in a police fatality case.

The commissioner announced in a press conference that he knew 2 things for sure at this juncture that are troubling to him, and will be troubling to prosecutors. First, he indicated that Mr. Gray was not belted in his seat in violation of department policy and basic academy training practices. Second, is that the police failed to get Mr. Gray medical attention immediately, but rather, waited close to an hour after a medical event to get him to a hospital. He later died there.

Under the law, there are many crimes that are implicated by these actions and/or inactions. Official misconduct may be applicable if the officers failed to perform a duty required by law. Murder or felony murder may be applicable if it is determined that the police intentionally did this to harm him, even if death was not the intended object of their actions. Manslaughter may be applicable if it is proven that they acted recklessly, which essentially means they “disregarded a known risk with a high probability that it could cause death, or serious bodily injury resulting in death”.

At this juncture it is clear to me that at a minimum the police were extremely reckless not securing or providing medical treatment to Mr. Gray. If it is later determined that this was a “rough ride” scenario, the problems for the police will only escalate.

It has been reported that since 2012, the police commissioner has removed over 50 employees for misconduct. That is a good thing. But, it shows that there are systemic issues with the department that may have led to Mr. Gray’s death.

I feel the Police Commissioner is doing a very good job (despite my belief that another agency should be handling this investigation). He is handling the press conferences surgically and with skill and he is giving the public confidence that he is taking the case and investigation seriously. He has explained the process. Perhaps most importantly, he has explained they will not get into investigative details that are not confirmed at this time (a problem the Ferguson Mo police chief failed miserably at).

As New Jersey Prosecutors who now handle New Jersey Criminal defense cases, we have handled many police in custody death cases. They need to be done carefully, methodically, and with skill and diligence. The guiding principal is getting it right, and most times that means taking you time and not being pressured to advance unsubstantiated facts.

My prediction is that some cops will be indicted for some wrongdoing in this case. We will wait to see….