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Baltimore Police Promise Full Investigation Into Man's Death After Arrest

Demonstrators protest the death of Freddie Gray outside Baltimore City Hall on Monday.
David Dishneau
Demonstrators protest the death of Freddie Gray outside Baltimore City Hall on Monday.

Officials in Baltimore, Md., say they will thoroughly investigate the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died after he was arrested by Baltimore Police more than a week ago.

The case has added fuel to the national debate about use of force by police. In Baltimore,demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding answers and an end to what they called police brutality against black men.

Today, Deputy Police Commissioner Jerry Rodriguez and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake held a press conference to offer a few details that resulted in a lot more questions.

As CNN reports, both officials said they were still trying to figure what exactly happened in the incident. Two things, however, are clear: Gray was chased by police and then handcuffed and, while talking and conscious, he was put into a police vehicle.

That part of the narrative is corroborated by cellphone video taken by a person on the street:

An autopsy showed that Gray suffered no wounds but a spinal cord injury killed him. As The Baltimore Sun reports, officers insist that Gray was arrested without the use of force and that he suffered a "medical emergency" during transport.

CNN reports:

"'What we don't know, and what we need to get to, is how that injury occurred,' Rodriguez said.

"The Baltimore Police Department is investigating the death, and has asked for calm as the process unfolds. But many in the community, including the city's mayor, are angry.

"'This is a very, very tense time for Baltimore City, and I understand the community's frustration. I understand it because I'm frustrated. I'm angry that we are here again — that we have had to tell another mother that their child is dead,' Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake told reporters. 'I'm frustrated not only that we're here, but we don't have all of the answers.'"

The New York Times reports that another issue in question here is whether police took too long to call for medical help.

The Times reports:

"The police commissioner, Anthony Batts, said officers had been slow to recognize that Mr. Gray needed medical attention. Even before being placed into a police van, a scene that was captured on videos taken by bystanders, Mr. Gray had said he needed his inhaler, according to the police, which he did not have with him.

"'We should have probably asked for paramedics' sooner, the commissioner said.

"Mr. Rodriguez said that when Mr. Gray was put into the van, he was talking and breathing, and 'acting irately,' according to the van driver, but that when he was taken out about 40 minutes later, he could not talk or breathe. The videos appear to show officers dragging Mr. Gray to the van, raising questions about whether he had already suffered the spinal injury. Mr. Rodriguez conceded that investigators do not know whether it occurred on the ride to the police station, or before."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.