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Baltimore Police Give Findings Into Freddie Gray Death To Prosecutor

By Timothy M. Phelps and Michael Muskal, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

BALTIMORE — Baltimore police turned over their findings into the death of Freddie Gray to the state prosecutor on Thursday, a day earlier than their self-imposed deadline.

The results of the investigation were sent to State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby on Thursday morning, Police Commissioner Anthony Batts announced.

“We have exhausted every lead at this point. But this does not mean the investigation is over,” he said.

The action comes amid published reports of a new narrative suggesting that Gray intentionally tried to injure himself as he was being transported in a police van.

The 25-year-old African-American died from a severed spine on April 19, a week after he was arrested by Baltimore police and transported by van. Police are investigating how Gray, who was cuffed with his hands behind his back and his legs in irons, was injured.

The police findings into the death, which has led to days of protests and a fevered Monday night of rioting and looting, were scheduled to be completed by Friday, but were completed early.

The state’s attorney has the final say on whether to charge any of the six officers with a state crime. The officers have been suspended with pay.

“By turning these documents, our findings, over to the state’s attorney’s office as quickly as we can, we are being accountable to them so that we can be accountable to the public,” spokesman Captain Eric Kowalczyk said Wednesday.

Police have already acknowledged that department policy was breached when Gray was placed in the van but not buckled into a seat belt and when officers failed to get him medical care in a timely fashion. The federal Justice Department is also investigating whether there were any violations of federal civil rights law.

Police have said that the van stopped three times while carrying Gray to a police precinct. At one stop, Gray was taken from the van and placed in irons. At the last stop, another inmate was also placed in the van but was separated from Gray by a metal barrier.

According to The Washington Post, the prisoner sharing the police van told investigators that he could hear Gray “banging against the walls” of the vehicle and believed that he “was intentionally trying to injure himself.”

The Post quoted from what it said was a Baltimore police document that was included in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post said it 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 offers the first official look at what happened in the van. Baltimore police have said they do not know whether Gray was injured during the arrest or during his ride in the van.

Gray was found unconscious in the wagon when it arrived at a police station on April 12, then taken to a hospital, where he died in a coma a week later.

Jason Downs, one of the attorneys for the Gray family, told the Post that the family had not been told of the prisoner’s comments to investigators.

“We disagree with any implication that Freddie Gray severed his own spinal cord,” Downs said. “We question the accuracy of the police reports we’ve seen thus far, including the police report that says Mr. Gray was arrested without force or incident.”

Photo: Vladimir Badikov via Flickr

Baltimore Calmer After Night Under Curfew; Schools Reopen

By Noah Bierman, Michael Muskal, and W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

BALTIMORE — A yellow school bus rumbling through a smattering of downtown traffic was a welcome sign of progress Wednesday morning as this riot-scarred city tried to return to normal after this week’s violence and looting.

No major incidents were reported overnight as a weeklong 10 p.m. curfew took hold and seemed to break city’s fevered response to the death of Freddie Gray, an African American who suffered a mortal injury while in police custody.

Ten people were arrested overnight, police said, two for looting, one for disorderly conduct and seven for violating the curfew. That was in addition to 235 arrests after Monday’s rioting that began hours after Gray’s funeral.

“Tonight I think the biggest thing is the citizens are safe, the city is stable,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said shortly before midnight as he declared the curfew a success. “We hope to maintain it that way.”

More than 3,000 officers and National Guard troops enforced the curfew, which got off to a slow start late Tuesday night when about 200 protesters ignored police warnings and the pleas of community activists to disperse. Some threw objects.

A line of police behind riot shields hurled tear gas canisters and fired pepper balls, slowly pushing back the crowd. Demonstrators picked up the canisters and hurled them back at officers. But the crowd rapidly dispersed and was down to just a few dozen people within minutes.

More than 20 police officers were injured in the past days, officials said.

The curfew ended at 5 a.m. and the city attempted to return to its pre-riot routines. Traffic resumed, but against a heavy show of National Guard, city police, and law enforcement officers from surrounding cities.

At North and Pennsylvania avenues, one of the centers of unrest, traffic moved as usual and residents went about their business as police in riot gear stood on each of the four corners.

“Things need to get back to normal,” said one police officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the situation. “That’s what’s starting to happen.”

About half a mile away the Mondawmin Mall, where rioters looted thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise on Monday, remained closed due to extensive damage during the unrest. Camouflaged Maryland National Guardsmen watched over each of the entrances.

However, the Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, which shares a parking lot with the mall, was open for business. And across the street, students entered Frederick Douglass High School after classes were canceled Tuesday.

“It’s good to move past all this,” said Robert Johnson, 50, who works at Shoppers. “There’s enough confusion in the world. We don’t need this madness.”

School buses were among the earliest vehicles on the roads. Like much of the city, schools were shuttered Tuesday. Educators said they were planning special programs.

“Principals and teachers are planning activities that will help students learn from the past days’ events. Counselors, social workers, and psychologists will be on hand to support students’ emotional needs,” the district’s executive officer, Gregory E. Thornton, said in a letter to parents.

Other usual city activities were also planned but with a special twist because of the days of protests.

The Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to play a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox after two previous games were postponed. But in what is believed to be a first in the history of the sport, Wednesday’s game will be played to an empty stadium. As a security measure, the afternoon game will be closed to the public.

On Tuesday, top officials including Governor Larry Hogan and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake worked to calm the city, which has been in turmoil since Gray died on April 19, a week after he was arrested in West Baltimore, which became the epicenter of the riots and looting.

Gray’s spine was severed, but it remains a mystery exactly how and when that occurred. Video has shown Gray being arrested and his hands cuffed behind his back when he is placed in the van for transport. The van made at least two stops and at one, Gray is seen on video being taken out of the van. His legs are placed in irons and he is returned to the wagon.

Officials are still investigating the events, but police have acknowledged that Gray should have been buckled into a seat belt as he was transported and that he should have received early medical care.

Gray’s death touched off protests last week that increased in intensity through the weekend and finally into Monday night’s violence.

Photo: Yianni Mathioudakis via Flickr

A Holiday Message To Our Readers

Dear Friends,

On this day, Americans of all religious persuasions, and none, will pause with their families to break bread, perhaps drink a toast, and share a moment of joy – especially if they are among the fortunate. But on this day, we must remember too that here and abroad, there remain millions for whom there is, in that memorable phrase from the Christmas story, “no room at the inn.”

That ancient story celebrates the birth of a child who entered the world sheltered in a stable, whose parents were impoverished and rejected, and who grew up to serve the poor, heal the sick, and comfort the outcast.

It is a tale 2,000 years old, yet never dated – bearing a powerful message of humility, compassion, and charity that too many of our political leaders have yet to comprehend even dimly, no matter how often they profess to worship its teacher. And still many others have upheld its compelling essence over the centuries, regardless of their identification with any spiritual creed.

So today we extend the warmest of holiday wishes to you, our readers, of all beliefs, with hope that the coming year brings our country and our world closer to living in peace, good will, generosity, and justice.

Merry Christmas!

Joe Conason

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

St. Louis Holds A Peace Fest, With Message From Brown’s Family

By Kurtis Lee and Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times

ST. LOUIS — Hundreds gathered at a downtown park Sunday for an annual “Peace Fest” attended by relatives of three young black men killed in controversial shootings: Trayvon Martin of Florida, Oscar Grant of California, and Michael Brown, 18, shot two weeks ago in nearby Ferguson by a white police officer.

Brown’s parents thanked the crowd for their support, and asked that they remain peaceful Monday for their son’s funeral.

“Tomorrow, all I want is peace while my son is being laid to rest. Please, please take a day of silence so we can lay our son to rest. Please, that’s all I ask,” Michael Brown Sr. said as he stood on stage, flanked by the Rev. Al Sharpton and family attorney Benjamin Crump.

“We love you, Mike,” the crowd responded.

“I really hope people respect Mr. Brown’s wishes,” Crump said afterward. “We all need to be peaceful.”

Brown’s funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at Friendly Temple Missionary Baptist Church, which seats more than 3,000 people. Speakers will include Sharpton; U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.); Brown’s relatives; and the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Michael Jones.

The White House is sending three officials, including the deputy director of the Office of Public Engagement, Marlon Marshall, a St. Louis native who attended high school with Brown’s mother.

Trayvon Martin’s parents also took the stage Sunday. Tracy Martin, a native of the St. Louis area, told the crowd he was glad to be home.

Like Brown, Martin’s son Trayvon, 17, was unarmed when he was shot and killed in Sanford, Fla., two years ago by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer. Trayvon’s death touched off protests in a number of cities. Zimmerman, who said he fired in self-defense, was acquitted by a jury last summer.

Trayvon’s mother said more must done to combat racial profiling.

“Because Michael Brown had a right to live,” Sybrina Fulton said. “He had a right to see another birthday.”

Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson, 56, came from Oakland to attend the festival. He wore a “California to Ferguson” shirt emblazoned with the faces of Brown, Grant, and Martin.

Grant, 22, was unarmed when he was shot by a white transit officer at an Oakland train station five years ago — an incident immortalized in the 2013 film “Fruitvale Station.” A jury convicted the officer of involuntary manslaughter, and he was sentenced to two years in jail minus time served. He has since been paroled.

“I’m here to help the family find peace, because we lived through this. And we had support from others in the community and from all around the country,” Johnson said as he mingled with the crowd.

The atmosphere was carnival-like, with booths hawking Brown and Martin T-shirts. Barbecue and kettle corn perfumed the air. The event, sponsored by the local nonprofit Better Family Life, began almost 30 years ago with a message of peace and unity among St. Louis’ black community, said its founder Malik Ahmed.

“We need to have peace between each other as blacks and peace between blacks and the police,” Ahmed said. “It’s essential.”

Loan officer Carl Little, who is black, brought his 4-year-old son on Sunday.

“This boy could be him,” Little, 25, said of young Tyler, who slurped on cherry shaved ice. “It hurts me to see these parents here, because I could be them.”

The festival also came a day after thousands marched peacefully in Staten Island, N.Y., to protest the death of another black man, Eric Garner, 43, at the hands of police.

Brown was killed Aug. 9 by Officer Darren Wilson, 28, who has reportedly told police that Brown was charging at him. However, some witnesses have said Brown was shot as he tried to surrender.

A grand jury is hearing evidence on the shooting, which is also being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department. On Sunday, Crump reiterated his call for the Justice Department to assume control of the investigation, rather than pursuing a parallel inquiry.

Some at the festival said they do not expect tempers to flare until the grand jury releases its findings.

Factory worker Vida Stewart, 52, said she hopes to see Wilson indicted.

“Who knows what happens in Ferguson if that doesn’t happen?” she said. “It could get real bad.”

Brown’s death drew national attention as protests turned violent. For days, police hurled smoke and tear gas canisters at crowds on West Florissant Avenue, accusing them of shooting at officers, as well as lobbing bottles and tossing Molotov cocktails. Scores of protesters and onlookers were arrested.

Gov. Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri Highway Patrol to take over from local police, then activated the National Guard. Wednesday’s demonstrations were peaceful, and on Thursday, Nixon announced he was sending the guard home.

Some in Sunday’s crowd came looking for hope — including Catherine Wellborn, 28, of nearby St. Charles. The chiropractic assistant, who is white, planned to attend Brown’s funeral too.

“This is a really troubling time for this city and state,” Wellborn said. “There has to be some bit of hope for a better St. Louis and country that might come from Michael Brown’s death.”

AFP Photo/Joshua Lott

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