The Justice Department will not press federal charges against the six police officers involved in the 2015 arrest and death of Freddie Gray due to insufficient evidence, the department announced on Tuesday evening.
“Prosecutors considered multiple theories of liability, based on multiple constitutional provisions, including theories of false arrest, excessive force, and deliberate indifference to the risk of serious harm to Gray,” the department said in a statement. But ultimately they concluded the evidence could not support criminal charges under federal civil rights law.
Gray was arrested by Baltimore police on April 12, 2015, following a short foot chase. He suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in custody and eventually died on April 19.
His death triggered citywide protests against police brutality. After Gray’s funeral on April 27, the unrest escalated and residents looted stores, set fires and threw rocks at police lines. Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department would be launching a federal civil rights investigation into his death.
In May of that year, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed a range of criminal charges against the six officers involved in Gray’s death.
Three of them ― Caesar Goodson, Edward Nero and Brian Rice ― opted for bench trials and were cleared of all charges by a judge. Mosby then dropped the charges against the remaining three: Garrett Miller, Alicia White and William Porter, whose initial trial had ended with a hung jury.
The failure to secure Gray with a seat belt before transporting him in a police van came to the forefront during Nero’s state trial, with state prosecutors arguing that the officer’s failure to buckle Gray in made him liable for Gray’s death. Not being secured in the van was the cause of Gray’s spinal cord injuries.
But federal investigators concluded that the police department’s seat belt policy “afforded officers the discretion to refrain from seat-belting detainees if the officers believed there were security risks involved.”
“Given the angry crowds at Stops 1 and 2, and in light of Gray’s combative behavior once inside the wagon, the Department cannot prove that the officers believed that their failure to seatbelt Gray was an inappropriate balancing of the safety risks involved,” the Justice Department statement says. “Accordingly, to the extent that the officers violated department policy in failing to seatbelt Gray, those failures suggest civil negligence rather than the high standard of deliberate indifference.”
The federal investigators also considered whether the officers failed to take Gray’s need for medical attention seriously and concluded it would be “impossible to prove” that they deliberately ignored Gray’s medical state.