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Baltimore police under investigation after death

April 22, 2015

The US Justice Department is investigating whether Baltimore police violated a man's civil rights when he died in custody. An autopsy has found that Freddie Gray sustained a fatal spinal cord injury.

Baltimore USA Protest
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Algerina Perna/The Baltimore Sun vía AP

On Tuesday, the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation following the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, after his arrest last week in Baltimore. Paramedics had rushed him to the hospital in critical condition about 30 minutes after his arrest on April 12, but he died Sunday after falling into a coma.

"None of his limbs were broken," Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez said after Gray's autopsy. "He did suffer a very tragic injury to his spinal cord, which resulted in his death."

In federal cases such as this one, investigators look for evidence that an officer willfully violated a person's civil rights by using unreasonable force. Baltimore police say they continue to investigate why officers stopped Gray and what led to his injury. They have suspended the officers involved.

'Committing no crime'

The incident sparked protests in Baltimore, as local residents and activists gathered outside a local police station on Sunday and Monday to demand more information (pictured above). A video of the arrest shows police restraining Gray on a sidewalk and then dragging him to a van while he yells in pain. Rodriguez said Gray had requested an inhaler after his arrest and became "irate" while sitting in the police van.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Anthony Batts said that following Gray's death the department would review policies regarding transporting suspects and providing medical attention. He said officers did not appear to have used unnecessary force during Gray's arrest, but added that the department would continue to investigate their conduct.

The lawyer for Gray's family said police had arrested the man "for committing no crime" and accused officers of a cover-up. "We believe the police are keeping the circumstances of Freddie's death secret until they develop a version of events that will absolve them of all responsibility," William Murphy Jr. said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.

A series of recent deaths of black men involving US police has prompted nationwide protests and charges of racism, reviving the debate about undue use of official force. Earlier this month, officials in South Carolina charged white police officer Michael Slager with murder after a video showed him fatally shooting the 50-year-old black man Walter Scott in the back as he ran away. In Oklahoma last week, another white officer was charged in the fatal shooting of a black man.

A Justice Department investigation launched after the death of an unarmed black teenager at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer found significant racial bias in the city administration. The police response to protests following the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of officer Darren Wilson has led to a lawsuit by German journalists.

US President Barack Obama made mention of several deaths of black men at the hands of police while observing an important civil rights milestone in March.

mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)