Cheers on streets of Baltimore as six officers arrested over death
A Baltimore police officer has been charged with murdering Freddie Gray, the young black man whose death in police custody sparked a night of rioting on the city's streets.
Five other officers have also been charged in connection with his death after the 25-year-old was found with a snapped neck in the back of a police van. Baltimore authorities hope that the swift prosecutions will head off further unrest and avoid a situation like that in Ferguson, Missouri, where the decision not to charge a police officer who shot a black teenager was met with violent protests.
"To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America: I heard your call, 'no justice, no peace'," said Marilyn Mosby, the Maryland prosecutor. "Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man."
Onlookers cheered and shouted "Justice!" during Mosby's announcement. Few expected such quick action. The city, which saw looting and businesses and cars burned on Monday, remains under a nighttime curfew, with National Guard troops and police out in full force and huge protests expected today. More than 200 people have been arrested and nearly 100 officers injured in the unrest following Gray's funeral.
The stepfather of Freddie Gray says the family was satisfied with prosecutors charging six police officers involved in Gray's arrest.
Richard Shipley said at a news conference yesterday that the charges were the first step in getting justice for Gray. An attorney for the Gray family said people must be mindful that the charges are a first step, not the last.
Malik Shabazz, the president of Black Lawyers for Justice, said a protest planned for today would now be a "victory rally," and said Ms Mosby was "setting a standard for prosecutors all over the nation."
Ms Mosby announced the charges less than a day after receiving the results of an internal police investigation and the autopsy report.
A lawyer for some of the officers accused Ms Mosby of a rush to judgment that raises grave concerns about the integrity of the prosecution. "The officers did nothing wrong," Attorney Michael Davey said yesterday afternoon. "These injuries did not occur as a result of any action or inaction on the part of these officers."
Prosecutors allege that Caesar Goodson, the driver of the police van, killed the young man by racing through the streets of Baltimore while Mr Gray was not safely strapped into a seat.
The murder charge appears to support claims that Mr Gray was subjected to illegal "rough ride" tactics, where police drive with deliberate aggression and leave their prisoners to bounce off the walls of the van's cell compartment.
The tactic - also known as "nickel rides" in reference to old-fashioned amusement parks - allow police to inflict significant physical harm or even death without actually beating their victims.
Ms Mosby said police had five different opportunities to strap Mr Gray safely into a seat in the van but chose not to. Police made several stops through the city despite Mr Gray's "obvious and recognised need for medical assistance" and by the time police finally took him from the van he was unconscious and not breathing. He died a week later in hospital.
Officer Goodson, the driver, faces a charge of "second-degree depraved heart murder", meaning he acted in a dangerous way knowing that it could lead to serious harm or death for Mr Gray.
The charge is different from first-degree murder, which means the killer deliberately took a victim's life.
Three other officers are facing involuntary manslaughter charges for their part in failing to secure Mr Gray in the van or to subsequently give him medical help.
The two officers who initially arrested Mr Gray are being charged with assault for the way they pinned him to the pavement.
The officers arrested him after he made eye contact with them and ran away but prosecutors later determined there was no justification for the arrest and that a knife in Mr Gray's pocket was legal. Warrants were issued for the arrest of all six officers, who were due to appear in court last night.
President Barack Obama declined to comment on the specifics of the charges but said: "What the people of Baltimore want more than anything else is the truth - that's what people all around the country expect."
Ms Mosby stressed to rank-and-file Baltimore police officers that the decision to charge six of their colleagues was "not an indictment on the entire force".
The murder charge against Officer Goodson may prove especially difficult to secure a conviction on as prosecutors will need to convince a jury that he knew his actions could lead to serious harm or death to Mr Gray but he did it anyway.
Mr Gray's mother, Gloria Darden, said she was relieved that prosecutors "got all six of them".
"You can rest, Freddie. You can rest. You can be in peace now," she said.