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Baltimore Police Routinely Discriminate Against Black People: Justice Department

Baltimore police regularly engage in unconstitutional behavior and display a pattern of discrimination against African Americans, according to a new report released by the Justice Department.

The report, released today, examines the Baltimore Police Department’s relationship with the citizens of Baltimore County, and concludes that Baltimore PD routinely makes unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests and displays conduct, which the Justice Department claimed “raises serious concerns.”

The Justice Department began their investigation after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died in police custody due to injuries to his spinal cord.

This is not the first investigation launched by the Justice Department following the suspicious death of a black man in police custody: a similar report was released after a probe was launched into the police department of Ferguson, Missouri for the death of Michael Brown.

The Baltimore report, however, did not focus on Gray’s death, and instead examined the pervasive patterns and practices that make up the day-to-day operations of the police department. The Justice Department report was undertaken over more than a year, and carefully assembled interviews from police officers, attorneys, elected officials, and the public.

The report found that the unconstitutional actions of the Baltimore PD affect those in poor, black neighborhoods disproportionately. Not only that, the Justice Department also found that often, officers are not held accountable for their bad conduct.

Citing specific cases, the Justice Department report describes the relationship between police and the community as “broken.” Among the specifics reported is the story of one black man in his 50s who was stopped by police, as a pedestrian, 30 times in under four years. Many of the instances cited in the report were for “discretionary offenses,” meaning the Baltimore police arrested black individuals for things like “trespassing” or “failure to obey.”

One of the more egregious instances of bad conduct from the report is that a template for writing up trespass arrest reports contained the boilerplate language “A BLACK MALE” for a description of the arrestee, indicating an assumption that those arrested will be black.

The Justice Department also found that physical force is often used without provocation or necessity not only against blacks, but also against the mentally disabled. Baltimore PD also perform unconstitutional and public strip searches, and often use excessive force against civilians, including juveniles.

In the early 2000s, the Baltimore PD maintained a “zero tolerance” policy, allowing arrests for minor charges. Despite an official denunciation of the policy in 2010 (as a result of a settlement with the NAACP), The Justice Department report found that the Baltimore PD still acted unconstitutionally as a result of the “legacy of the zero tolerance era.”

The report concludes that Baltimore police are taught to use “aggressive tactics” and often retaliate against those where officers “did not like” what was said.

The report will form the basis of negotiations between the Justice Department and Baltimore police. Ultimately, the two organizations will enter into a consent decree under which the day-to-day practices of police would be subject to sweeping changes under the oversight of a federal judge.

 

Photo: Police watch on as a man participates in a protest in Union Square after Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted of all charges for his involvement in the death of Freddie Gray in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 23, 2016.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Baltimore Police Lieutenant Acquitted In Freddie Gray Case

BALTIMORE (Reuters) – A Baltimore police lieutenant was acquitted of manslaughter and two other charges in the April 2015 death of black detainee Freddie Gray, dealing prosecutors another setback in their efforts to secure a conviction in the highly charged case.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams found Lieutenant Brian Rice not guilty in a bench trial. Rice, 42, was the highest-ranking officer charged after Gray’s death from a broken neck suffered in a police transport van.

His death triggered protests and rioting in the mainly black city and stoked a national debate about how police treat minorities.

The controversy flared anew this month with the deaths of African-American men at the hands of police in Minnesota and Louisiana. Tensions were heightened further after police officers were killed in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked the community to continue to respect the judicial process during “a very difficult time for our city.”

The scene outside the courthouse in Baltimore on Monday was calm, with only a handful of protesters.

Rice was the fourth of six officers to stand trial in the case. Williams previously acquitted Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson Jr., both of whom were in court on Monday.

In a statement, Rawlings-Blake said Rice would still face a departmental review.

Officer William Porter faces a September retrial after a jury deadlocked.

Rice, who is white, ordered two officers on bicycle to chase Gray, 25, when he fled unprovoked in a high-crime area.

Prosecutors said Rice acted negligently by failing to place Gray in a seat belt.

But defense lawyers said Rice was allowed leeway on how to secure a prisoner. The officer made the correct split-second decision while Gray was being combative and a hostile crowd looked on, they said.

Williams, who heard the case without a jury at Rice’s request, said prosecutors failed to show the lieutenant was aware of a departmental policy requiring seat belts for prisoners during transport.

“A mere error in judgment is not enough to show corruption,” the judge said. Rice had faced charges of involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

The verdict could renew calls from police union leaders to drop charges against the remaining officers.

In addition to Porter’s retrial, Officer Garrett Miller is scheduled for trial later this month, while Sergeant Alicia White’s trial is set for October.

Warren Alperstein, a Baltimore defense attorney who attended the trial as a spectator, said he was “not surprised by the verdict whatsoever.”

“At the end of the day, the state may have to say we’re cutting our losses and moving on,” he said.

 

(Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Photo: A man participates in a protest in Union Square after Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted of all charges for his involvement in the death of Freddie Gray in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., June 23, 2016.  REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Baltimore Cop Not Guilty Of Most Serious Charge In Death Of Freddie Gray

Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodson Jr was found not guilty on Thursday of second-degree depraved heart murder in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray, the most serious criminal charge he faced.

Judge Barry Williams handed down the verdict in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Goodson, 46, was the driver of a police transport van in which Gray broke his neck in April 2015. His death triggered rioting and protests in the majority black city.

The judge has not yet ruled on the less serious counts Goodson faced, including three counts of manslaughter, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

Prosecutors contended Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride,” failed to ensure his safety and should have called for a medic.

Goodson’s defense team argued that Gray caused his own injuries by falling inside the transport van. Goodson also lacked the training to recognize that Gray was hurt, they said.

Goodson, who is also black, faced the most serious charges among the six officers charged in Gray’s death, making his the marquee case for prosecutors. They failed to secure a conviction in two earlier trials of officers.

Goodson waived a jury trial, leaving it to Williams to decide his fate.

(Writing by Ian Simpson and Scott Malone)

A man, who declined to offer his name, walks past a mural of Freddie Gray in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, December 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Bryan Woolston  

Baltimore Cop Says Freddie Gray Ask For Help During Fatal Ride

A Baltimore police officer testified on Monday that black detainee Freddie Gray asked for help while being transported in a police van, where he suffered a broken neck.

The officer, William Porter, took the stand in the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, 46, the van’s driver. Prosecutors contend Goodson gave Gray a “rough ride” and he is accused of second-degree depraved heart murder and other charges in Gray’s death in April 2015.

His death triggered protests and rioting in Baltimore and stoked a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities. Goodson is the third of six officers to go on trial, and his attorneys argue that Gray caused his own fatal injuries.

Porter testified in Baltimore City Circuit Court that he responded to a call to assist Goodson at the fourth stop the van made while transporting Gray. He found Gray, who was shackled, lying on his stomach on the van’s floor, his head toward the front of the vehicle.

“What if anything did Mr. Gray say?” asked prosecutor Michael Schatzow.

“I said, ‘What’s up?’ He said, ‘Help,'” Porter said. “‘What do you need help with?’ ‘Help me up.'”

No medical aid was sought, and Porter, whose trial on a manslaughter charge ended in a hung jury in December, helped put Gray onto a bench inside the van. Gray was not buckled into a seat belt, a violation of department procedures.

Schatzow read from a statement that Porter gave internal affairs investigators in which Porter said he had told Goodson that Gray should he taken to a hospital.

Asked if Goodson had agreed, Porter paused, then said: “Sure.”

A medical examiner’s report concluded that Gray was fatally injured between the second and fourth stops that Goodson made. Prosecutors had been expected to call Porter to help establish a timeline on Gray’s transport.

Goodson’s charge of second-degree murder is the most serious one against the officers accused in Gray’s death. He also faces manslaughter and other charges.

Goodson waived a jury trial and Judge Barry Williams will decide the case. The trial began on Thursday.

Porter’s testimony in a case in which he also faces trial was the result of a lengthy legal battle that reached Maryland’s highest court.

Porter faces a retrial in September. Williams acquitted one officer, Edward Nero, in a second trial.

(This version of the story corrects to read fourth stop, not fifth, in fourth paragraph.)

 

Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler

Photo: A man, who declined to offer his name, walks past a mural of Freddie Gray in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore, December 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Bryan Woolston