Defense To Challenge Charges Against Baltimore Police In Freddie Gray Case

May 11, 2015
Originally published on May 13, 2015 2:44 pm
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Let's walk back through what's known of the death of Freddie Gray. Six Baltimore police officers charged after that death say they should face no charges at all. Attorneys for the six filed legal motions last week asking a court to dismiss charges ranging from misconduct to manslaughter to murder. The drama that spread through Baltimore streets is now a question for courts and the law, so NPR's Cheryl Corley retraced Gray's arrest in the company of a Baltimore legal expert.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: So I'm in the car with producer Evie Stone and professor Michael Pinard - University of Maryland Law School professor. And we're heading over to the spot where Freddie Gray first encountered the officers who would arrest him.

MICHAEL PINARD: Let's make a left right here. It's the corner of North Mount and North Avenue. This is where the encounter first began.

CORLEY: It was shortly after 8:30 in the morning Sunday, April 12, when Gray made eye contact with a group of police on bike patrol and ran towards Gilmor Homes, a Baltimore public housing development, as the officers gave chase. Whether they had probable cause to do so, says Pinard, could be an issue in court.

PINARD: The Supreme Court has said that flight in a, quote, unquote, "high crime neighborhood" could give rise to reasonable suspicion and lots of state courts have said the same. But usually, when you look at these cases there's usually something else involved.

CORLEY: About two blocks away, painters continue to work on a large mural on the side wall of a two-story row house. The brown face of Freddie Gray looms large in the center. It's just steps away from where police handcuffed and arrested Gray and charged him with possessing an illegal knife. That knife is now at the center of a probable cause legal fight in this case. When Baltimore City state's attorney Marilyn Mosby announced tough charges against the six police officers, she said that 25-year-old Freddie Gray was falsely arrested because the knife he carried was not an illegal weapon.

PINARD: In Maryland, a switchblade, one that has a spring action - that is, you press a button and it automatically flips open - that's illegal, but a pocket knife is not.

CORLEY: Attorneys for the police officers say the knife does violate the city's code, and at least one of the officers has asked to have the knife found on Gray to be made available for inspection to determine its legality. Cellphone videos show Freddie Gray screaming and his legs dragging behind as he's placed in a police van during his arrest. According to the Baltimore state's attorney, Gray reportedly said he couldn't breathe, asked for an inhaler, but did not receive one. The timeline described by the state's attorney also shows officers stopped the van shortly afterwards to put flex cuffs on Gray's wrist and shackles on his ankles. The state's attorney also charged police did not restrain Gray in a seatbelt as required. While officers apparently stopped and checked on Gray, they allegedly drove to pick up another suspect instead of taking Gray to central booking or seeking medical attend.

We're in the 1,600 block of North Avenue. This is where the van reportedly made a fourth stop. It's very busy here. At 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the street is crowded with people.

PINARD: So this is where the state's attorney in the timeline states that Mr. Gray is unresponsive, right? That he really, at this point, is in acute medical distress and that one of the officers talks to the back of Mr. Gray's head to twice ask if he's OK, and there's no response.

CORLEY: Professor Pinard says the charges the state's attorney filed may be a high hurdle for prosecutors, but every action the officers took will be key issues in the case, including their alleged inaction in providing medical help for Freddie Gray. Pinard says he expects a strong fight from the police officers' attorneys.

PINARD: They might say that the officers actually took great care looking out for Mr. Gray, that they were concerned about Mr. Gray's health along these lines...

CORLEY: That they stopped the van often to see...

PINARD: That they stopped the van; that they checked up on him, and obviously, the state's attorney will respond but he's calling out for medical attention and you don't get him this medical attention. But, look, the defense is going to challenge each and every fiber of the state's attorney's case, including the medical issues.

CORLEY: The six police officers charged in connection with Gray's death have yet to appear in court, and their attorneys are calling for an independent prosecutor to take over. Professor Pinard says a trial will be a long time coming as pretrial legal issues play out in court, including a likely request to move any trial out of Baltimore. Cheryl Corley, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.