Leaked autopsy sheds new light on Freddie Gray’s death

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Dickelbers/Wikimedia (CC BY SA 3.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

What killed Freddie Gray? It remains unclear.

A preliminary report on the death of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray says he was not fatally injured during his April 12 arrest, according to a local ABC affiliate, which cited sources briefed on the Maryland medical examiner’s findings.

An unnamed law enforcement source says that Gray, whose death sparked protests in Baltimore and cities around the country this week, was instead killed by injuries that occurred after he was placed unrestrained into the back of a police transport vehicle.

A medical examiner found that the injury happened when Gray’s head slammed into the back of the police van, according to the report. The head injury he sustained apparently matches a bolt in the rear of the vehicle.

The medical examiner’s office has refused to comment on an ongoing investigation.

If the report is accurate, it remains unclear what caused 25 year old Gray’s head to slam into the bolt. Some have speculated that he may have been given a “rough ride,” which is police code for driving and stopping erratically, forcing the prisoner to slam around in the back of the vehicle—a practice that is not officially sanctioned by the police department.

There have been two “rough ride” cases in recent years against the Baltimore Police Department. Relatives of Dondi Johnson Sr. won a $7.5 million verdict against police officers after he was left paraplegic in 2005 as the result of a van ride. A jury awarded Jeffrey Alston $39 million a year before after a similar incident left him paralyzed from the neck down.

Medical experts have previously said the injuries sustained by Gray had to have been caused by “significant force,” which is typically seen in car accident victims.

Another report, written by a Baltimore police investigator, was leaked to the Washington Post on Wednesday evening and said that a prisoner picked up after Gray heard him “banging against the walls” of the van. The prisoner also reportedly stated that he thought Gray was “intentionally trying to injure himself.”

The identity of the second prisoner was not revealed by the Post because the unnamed source of the document reportedly “feared for the inmate’s safety.” The prisoner later identified himself as Donte Allen, 22, in an interview with WBAL.

“When I got in the van, I didn’t hear nothing,” Allen told WBAL. “It was a smooth ride. We went straight to the police station. All I heard was a little banging for about four seconds. I just heard little banging, just little banging.”

According to journalist Jayne Miller, sources told WBAL that Gray was unresponsive by the time Allen was loaded into the van. The autopsy report showed no evidence that Gray’s injuries were self inflicted, she said. “His fatal neck and spinal injury was akin to the type suffered in a car accident; it needed that amount of force and energy,” Miller reported.

“When we got to the police station, they said he didn’t have no pulse or nothing,” Allen said in the interview. “They called his name, ‘Mr. Gray, Mr. Gray.’ And he wasn’t responsive.”

The report, which states Allen told police it sounded as if Gray was trying to hurt himself, is contradicted by a previous statement given by Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, according to Miller, who on April 23 tweeted that Batt’s said the “2nd prisoner” reported “no erratic driving” by the van’s driver and that Gray was “mostly quiet.”

Batts admitted that his officers had violated policy by failing to restrain Gray inside the van. A policy requiring seat belts took effect on April 3, nine days before Gray’s arrest.

The president of the Baltimore police union, Gene Ryan, told the Washington Post that officers received an email notifying them of the policy on April 9, but suggested that many hadn’t read it because they assumed the changes were “cosmetic.” 

Photo by Dickelbers/Wikimedia (CC BY SA 3.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

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