BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A Baltimore police report on the death of a black man who suffered spinal injuries while in custody was handed over on Thursday to the city’s chief prosecutor, who must decide whether to bring charges against six officers involved in the man’s arrest.
The office of Marilyn Mosby, the state’s attorney, will include the internal report as part of its own investigation into the death of Freddie Gray, who was injured sometime between his arrest on April 12 for carrying a switchblade knife and his arrival at a police station.
Gray’s death a week later has become the latest flashpoint in a national outcry over the treatment of African-Americans and other minority groups by a white-dominated U.S. law enforcement establishment.
After demonstrations and a night of rioting in Baltimore, protests spread to other major cities on Wednesday, a reprise of demonstrations last year set off by police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri; New York; and elsewhere.
More demonstrations are planned around the country on Thursday. About 1,000 people in Philadelphia gathered for an afternoon rally at city hall. Protesters took to the streets of Baltimore once again in a noisy but peaceful march that was joined by NBA star Carmelo Anthony and other celebrities.
Mosby, a 35-year-old African-American who took office in January, said her staff was regularly briefed by police investigators during the course of their probe, and at the same time, her office has been conducting its own independent probe.
“We are not relying solely on their findings but rather the facts that we have gathered and verified,” Mosby said in a statement. “We ask for the public to remain patient and peaceful and to trust the process of the justice system.”
Mosby faces the biggest test of her short career in trying to determine what exactly happened to 25-year-old Gray and whether any of the officers should face criminal charged. The six are on suspension.
The daughter and granddaughter of police officers and the wife of a city councilman, Mosby vowed during her campaign to crack down on repeat offenders and promised to be more visible in the community than her predecessor.
In an election questionnaire she filled out for the Baltimore Sun, she decried “the long-standing history of distrust between citizens and law enforcement, and the widespread belief that the State’s Attorney’s Office cannot offer protection from retaliation.”
She has also emphasized the need for safe neighborhoods, offering the story of a cousin whom she said was killed on his doorstep over a pair of sneakers.
While there are no immediate plans to make the findings of the police report public, media reports on Thursday offered new perspectives about what may have happened to Freddie Gray.
A Washington Post story, based on a police document, suggested Gray tried to hurt himself while riding in a police van.
A prisoner who rode in the van said he had heard sounds that suggested Gray was banging his own head against the wall, according to a document written by a police investigator and obtained by the newspaper. The other prisoner could not see Gray because they were separated by a metal divider.
Baltimore Police Department Captain Eric Kowalczyk on Thursday declined to comment on a Washington Post report, referring questions to the prosecutor’s office, which was not immediately available.
Local television station WJLA said the medical examiner saw no evidence that Gray suffered the fatal injury during his arrest, pointing instead to the injury happening during his ride in the police van, multiple law enforcement sources told the ABC affiliate.
The medical examiner found that Gray appeared to break his neck when his head slammed into the back of the van, the sources told WJLA. He also suffered a head wound matching a bolt jutting from the vehicle’s back door.
The WJLA report said it was still unclear what caused Gray to bang his head. He was not wearing restraints during the ride, a violation of department policies.
Police offered a fresh wrinkle to Gray’s case on Thursday, saying officials learned of a fourth, previously undisclosed stop by the police van en route to the station house after viewing footage from a private camera. It was not immediately known what the footage revealed about Gray’s injury.
While there were no immediate plans to make the police report’s findings public, it was delivered a day earlier than expected, highlighting the urgency with which officials view the Gray case.
“I understand the frustration. I understand the sense of urgency,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts told a news conference. “That is why we have finished it a day ahead of time.”
Community activists said putting the report in the hands of prosecutors would make a difference in defusing tensions.
“It helps a lot,” said Reverend Keith Bailey, president of Fulton Heights Community Association, where Gray had done court-ordered community service. “I think this is what everyone wanted.”
The U.S. Justice Department, headed by another African-American woman, Loretta Lynch, was investigating Gray’s arrest and death for possible civil rights violations.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vowed to get justice done. She noted that she, Mosby and Lynch were important figures in the case.
“If, with the nation watching, three black women at three different levels can’t get justice... for this community, you tell me where you’re going to get it in our country,” Rawlings-Blake told reporters.
Additional reporting by Mary Wisniewski and Fiona Ortiz in Chicago, Lisa Lambert in Washington, Natalie Pompilio in Philadelphia and Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Grant McCool and Lisa Shumaker